NHS hospitals at the forefront of the battle against coronavirus are about ‘to run out of essential drugs’ to look after intensive care patients, according to a leaked document published today. 

Medics across Europe sounded the alarm in a letter to governments on Tuesday. 

To manage the most severe cases of COVID-19, resuscitators have to immerse the patients in an artificial coma, and intubate them.

They use powerful anaesthesia drugs to do this, such as curare and propofol, and these are the ones that are rapidly disappearing. 

In a leaked letter to their respective governments doctors called for emergency measures to deal with the shortages of these two drugs.  

Powerful anaesthesia drugs, such as Curare, are rapidly disappearing

Powerful anaesthesia drugs, such as Curare, are rapidly disappearing

Propofol is also running out

Propofol is also running out

Powerful anaesthesia drugs, such as Curare (left) and Propofol (right), are the ones that are rapidly disappearing. They are used to manage people with the most severe forms of COVID-19

‘Hospitals will soon run out of essential drugs to treat COVID-19 patients hospitalised in intensive care units,’ the letter, leaked to Le Monde newspaper in France, reads.

‘Without European collaboration to ensure a continuous supply of medicines, they may no longer be able to provide adequate intensive care within one to two weeks.’ 

The signatories are all part of the European Alliance of University Hospitals, and include the CEO of London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust and representatives from San Raffaele in Milan, Vall d´Hebron in Barcelona, ​​and the Charité – Universitätsmedizin hospital in Berlin.

The letter continues: ‘At this rate of consumption, the stocks of the hospitals most affected will be empty in a few days, and in two weeks they will be empty for those who have larger stocks. 

‘This has already led to some hospitals buying drugs or dosages different from what they are used to.

‘It is extremely worrying to see nurses and medical students overworked and often less experienced using products and dosages with which they are not familiar.’   

A French government spokesman confirmed that it had received the letter from the European Alliance of University Hospitals on Tuesday. 

A Guy’s and St Thomas’ spokesperson said: ‘During this unprecedented rise in demand for intensive care treatments, it is essential that we maintain collaboration and cross border support to ensure timely access to key medicines across the UK and Europe. 

‘At Guy’s and St Thomas’, as is the case across the NHS, we will continue to closely monitor supplies of medicines to make sure that we have adequate levels for patients, as we always do.’ 

Coronavirus has so far killed nearly 1,800 people in the UK and infected more than 25,000

Coronavirus has so far killed nearly 1,800 people in the UK and infected more than 25,000

Coronavirus has so far killed nearly 1,800 people in the UK and infected more than 25,000 

It comes days after the British Government banned companies from buying up drugs used on intensive care wards and selling them to hospitals in other countries.

EXPERIMENTAL DRUG THAT COULD TREAT CORONAVIRUS ‘IS OUT OF STOCK’ 

A malaria drug which could treat seriously ill coronavirus patients is already in short supply in the UK after US President Donald Trump revealed American hospitals would double down on using it.

An NHS pharmacist warned MailOnline there are already shortages of the drug hydroxychloroquine, which is used to prevent malaria and treat lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. 

It is one of three medicines which the Government last month banned companies from exporting from the UK.

This raised the prospect that it will be given to coronavirus patients in the UK as doctors in other countries have claimed it’s a successful therapy. 

The similar chloroquine phosphate was also on the export ban and is used for similar purposes and shows promise in coronavirus patients.  

Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday confirmed that at least one British patient is now part of a clinical trial to try and stop the deadly disease.

But the Government has refused to reveal details of what medication they are being given.

Mr Trump yesterday said chloroquine was showing ‘very, very encouraging early results’ so US officials were pushing it through to make it immediately available to doctors around the country. 

The Department of Health has announced that the exporting of certain drugs including painkillers, antibiotics and anaesthetics will no longer be allowed.

This ban on international sale of the drugs is intended to shore up Britain’s supplies of drugs which are crucial for treating intensive care patients.

Increasing numbers of people will need to be admitted to critical care units in the coming weeks and the Government must move to make sure they can be looked after. 

Although bed capacity is an issue, banning the drugs is one way hospitals can make sure their supplies don’t run dry.

81 drugs were banned from export today, among them the high-grade painkillers morphine, fentanyl and ketamine, as well as the surgical anaesthetics  propofol.

Noradrenalin, a type of adrenaline, and the antibiotic clarithromycin, which is a first-choice treatment for pneumonia, were also on the list.

The Department of Health said all the drugs on the list are in high demand across Europe as health authorities work to battle coronavirus.

The Department of Health’s move is a ban on what’s called the parallel export of drugs, meaning companies are not allowed to buy UK stocks to sell them abroad.

Health Minister Lord Bethell said earlier this month: ‘We are banning the parallel export of more than 80 crucial medicines to protect patients in the UK and help ensure they can always get the treatments they need.’

Also on the parallel export ban list are medications being used as experimental therapies for people with severe coronavirus infections.

Antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, as well as HIV medications called lopinavir + ritonavir, are also on the list.

All three have been used on COVID-19 patients by doctors in China, who reported that they have shown good results.

Their status on the protected list raises the prospect of them being used in the UK after Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday revealed British patients have begun to be enrolled in clinical trials. 

UK waives duties so it can boost import of coronavirus testing kits, ventilators and other vital medical equipment as it faces furious backlash over lagging behind Germany which is testing 500,000 people every week

Britain will waive import taxes on coronavirus testing kits, ventilators and other vital medical supplies in a bid to boost the fight against the deadly disease amid widespread criticism of the government’s testing operation. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced this evening that NHS suppliers will no longer have to pay customs duty and import VAT on specified medical items coming from outside the EU.  

It came as Michael Gove admitted the government’s coronavirus testing efforts must go ‘further, faster’ as Downing Street suggested a target of 25,000 daily checks may not be met until the end of next month. 

The Minister for the Cabinet Office said the lack of availability of globally in-demand crucial chemicals which are needed in the testing process was proving a ‘critical constraint’ on expanding checks. 

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Gove said: ‘While the rate of testing is increasing we must go further, faster. A critical constraint on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents which are necessary in the testing.

‘The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are working with companies worldwide to ensure that we get the material we need to increase tests of all kinds.’ 

Mr Gove also revealed the first wave of new ventilator devices will roll off the production line this weekend and be delivered to the NHS next week when they will be ‘rapidly distributed to the frontline’.

Meanwhile, the medical director of NHS England Professor Stephen Powis warned that while there are ‘green shoots’ of hope in relation to the spread of coronavirus after an apparent plateau in the number of new cases, the UK must not be ‘complacent’.    

‘It is really important not to read too much because it is really early days,’ he said. ‘We are not out of the woods, we are very much in the woods.’

Critics today labelled the UK’s efforts on testing a ‘catastrophe’ and ‘dismal’ when compared to what is being done in Germany where 500,000 tests are being carried out every week. 

Rishi Sunak today announced that he is waiving import duty on medical supplies like coronavirus testing kits

Rishi Sunak today announced that he is waiving import duty on medical supplies like coronavirus testing kits

Rishi Sunak today announced that he is waiving import duty on medical supplies like coronavirus testing kits 

Downing Street had earlier hinted at Mr Johnson’s apparent frustration at the slow progress on ramping up Britain’s capacity, with a spokesman saying he wanted ‘as much progress to be made on this as possible’. 

The UK is currently managing just under 10,000 tests a day with the government having previously said it wants to get to 25,000 by the middle of April.

But today Number 10 said the timetable was ‘mid to late April’ – seemingly an admission that efforts have stalled. 

Experts have insisted ‘organisation’ rather than a shortage of facilities is to blame for the painfully slow rise in checks.

However, the UK is struggling to obtain enough of the tests themselves, with Germany seemingly able to acquire them from domestic manufacturers while Britain is having to import them. 

The competition for the tests was illustrated today by reports NHS England and NHS Wales ended up bidding against each other for equipment at the end of last week, prompting the four Home Nations to agree that all procurement will be done in Whitehall.

It is hoped that the Chancellor’s decision to waive customs duty and import VAT on key medical supplies will make it easier to ship in the tests.

Mr Sunak said: ‘We are taking decisive action to ensure our NHS has everything it needs to fight this outbreak.

‘Waiving import taxes on vital medical equipment such as ventilators will speed up and increase the supply of critical items going to our frontline health workers.’  

However, the government will have to dramatically increase its efforts if it is to win over its critics who today slammed ministers for not doing enough. 

Jeremy Hunt, the Tory chairman of the Health Select Committee, said it would be ‘very worrying’ if the UK chose not to follow the lead of the likes of Germany and South Korea. 

He said mass testing allows for ‘a lot less’ disruption to daily lives because those who have the disease can be isolated and prevented from passing the virus on.  

He said: ‘It is internationally proven as the most effective way of breaking the chain of transmission.

‘So however difficult it is to source the reagents, to ramp up the capacity of laboratories up and down the country, it is essential that mass community testing is part of our national strategy.’

Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, labelled the UK’s testing efforts a ‘catastrophe’, telling MailOnline: ‘It’s an embarrassment. We do not appear to have done anything in six weeks to get ourselves in a better position on this.

‘If I was an NHS frontline worker waiting week after week after week for this I would be furious.’

He added: ‘70,000 tests a day in Germany, a million tests now conducted in America, and we in six weeks have managed to do as many tests as the Germans do in two days.

‘Everybody wants to believe in their leader during a crisis and everyone has given Boris the benefit of the doubt… I think public opinion is beginning to ask very serious questions.’

Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne told MailOnline that the government’s ‘dismal’ handling of the testing crisis will send vast numbers of British businesses to the wall – and delay the country’s economic recovery.

The gym mogul and former Dragons’ Den star said: ‘The government must get on top of testing immediately. The longer we are in lockdown the more businesses will go bust. 

‘My business hands over £39million to the Government every year in VAT, PAYE and corporation tax. As long as we are closed they get nothing.

‘Their handling of the testing issue has been dismal to say the least.’ 

Meanwhile, Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School, suggested the UK was struggling to ramp up testing because of the strategy it had earlier adopted to the outbreak. 

She tweeted that she feared the government had given up ‘on containment too early’ due an apparent belief that most people in the UK would eventually get the disease. 

That resulted in ‘planning and preparing for unprecedented testing’ being ‘taken off the table’ which Ms Sridhar said she believed was the ‘wrong path’.

Germany has been conducting 500,000 tests a week and is aiming to hit 200,000 tests a day in the near future. 

Part of the difference between the UK and Germany is reportedly that the latter has more tests available domestically. 

There are also claims that a shipment of testing kit parts from the European mainland has been found to be contaminated with the virus, in another potential delay. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted this morning that the government was struggling with the logistical challenge of increasing testing, saying it was not a ‘trivial or straightforward’ task.

‘This is never going to be enough,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘We always need to be pushing.’

Ministers boasted on Sunday that they had reached a target of 10,000 tests a day.  

However, while the capacity had been reached, the government is yet to actually carry out that number. The latest figures from Public Health England were 8,278 in the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday, which was actually down from 9,114 the previous day.

Professor Anthony Costello, an ex-director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) who is now based at University College London, this morning dismissed the idea that the UK does not have enough laboratory facilities to process tests. 

‘We need a policy of mass community testing as well as the blunt instrument of social distancing,’ he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. 

‘We need to do that because we want to arrow in on detecting cases and contact and quarantine. We need to have enough tests to protect our health workers… 

‘But most important when we want to loosen up the lockdown we want to have control over that. 

‘There will be much less disruption if we can do that rather than isolating the entire economy.’

He went on: ‘In answer to can we do it, we have 44 molecular virology labs in the UK. 

‘If they were doing 400 tests a day we would be up to Germany levels of testing and that is perfectly feasible.

Asked whether he was saying that the UK has the capacity but is just not organising it properly, Prof Costello said: ‘Yeah, correct. I don’t see why we cannot get these 44 molecular virology labs up and running, finding the cases and testing. 

‘PHE were slow and controlled, and they only allowed non-PHE labs to start testing two weeks ago. But that was after the strategy shift to stopping community tests.

‘We need to be like Korea…. their death rate is three per million and they have suppressed the virus.’ 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has praised countries like South Korea have for their wide-scale testing regimes, which have helped limit cases.  

However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms on March 12, when Britain’s response moved into a ‘delay’ phase.

Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help. 

Amid criticism, Mr Johnson then declared just under a fortnight ago that there would be a big expansion of tests from under 5,000 a day to 25,000. 

Routine testing is only just being offered to NHS staff, with 800 per day expected to get access to tests. There are fears that many will have been put at risk, amid complaints that they do not even have enough personal protection kit.  

A global shortage of the chemicals needed to produce coronavirus tests has emerged as another setback in the UK’s plans to test more people.

Industry bosses say chemical reagents that are used in the test are in short supply around the world as countries have scrambled to test their citizens for COVID-19. 

Lab tests for the coronavirus work by regrowing a patient’s DNA in a lab and examining it to find traces of genetic material left behind by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

For this to work, technicians need a chemical called a reagent to trigger the chemical reaction which starts the process. 

There are various types of reagents which can be used in a COVID-19 test, supplied by different companies around the world, but they are in high demand everywhere. They are not unique to coronavirus and are the same reagents used in tests for illnesses such as flu.

The US has 10 different types of reagent listed in the priority list by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not clear whether the UK is using reagents manufactured on home soil or importing them. 

Some NHS labs have now resorted to make their own in ‘home brew’ situations so they can test patients, The Times reported.

Germany has also been leading the way on testing for individuals who have already been through the virus and emerged with immunity. Such checks could potentially allow people to be issued with certificates saying they are safe to go back to work – easing the lockdown crippling the economy.

The UK government has ordered 17.5million ‘antibody’ tests, but they have yet to go through clinical trials and it is not clear when they can start being used.

A study due to start in Germany in mid-April will see the blood of more than 100,000 volunteers tested for Covid-19 antibodies. 

The process will be repeated at regular intervals, with the sample scaling up to track the progress of the epidemic.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Germany appears to be leading the way in the testing and we have much to learn from their approach. 

‘I’ve repeatedly called for more testing and contact tracing in the UK, and we should be looking at initiatives like this closely.’  

The scale of the problem facing the UK was underlined today with figures suggesting the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak could be 24 per cent higher than NHS figures show.

Patients who had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificates numbered 210 in England and Wales up to March 20, the Office for National Statistics revealed.

That was 24 per cent higher than the 170 deaths recorded by NHS England and Public Health Wales during the same time frame.

If the ratio has stayed true since that time, the true current number of fatalities could be around 1,739 instead of the official 1,408.

Michael Gove admits the UK must go ‘further, faster’ to increase its coronavirus testing operation after government admits it may not hit 25,000 a day target until end of next month

Michael Gove today admitted the government’s coronavirus testing operation must go ‘further, faster’ after Downing Street suggested a target of 25,000 daily checks may not be met until the end of next month. 

The Minister for the Cabinet Office said the lack of availability of crucial chemicals which are needed in the testing process was a ‘critical constraint’ on the UK’s efforts. 

He said Boris Johnson and the Health Secretary Matt Hancock were now working together to try to source the globally in-demand material that Britain needs. 

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference, Mr Gove said: ‘While the rate of testing is increasing we must go further, faster. A critical constraint on the ability to rapidly increase testing capacity is the availability of the chemical reagents which are necessary in the testing.

‘The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary are working with companies worldwide to ensure that we get the material we need to increase tests of all kinds.’ 

Critics today labelled the UK’s efforts a ‘catastrophe’ and ‘dismal’ when compared to what is being done in Germany where 500,000 tests are being carried out every week. 

Downing Street had earlier hinted at Mr Johnsons’s apparent frustration at the slow progress on ramping up Britain’s capacity, with a spokesman saying he wants ‘as much progress to be made on this as possible’. 

The UK is currently managing just under 10,000 tests a day with the government having previously said it wants to get to 25,000 by the middle of April.

But today Number 10 said the timetable was ‘mid to late April’ – seemingly an admission that efforts have stalled. 

Politicians from different parties are now lining up to criticise the government’s approach while business chiefs are doing the same. 

Jeremy Hunt, the Tory former health secretary, said mass testing in the community must be carried out by the government while Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said the efforts so far were an ’embarrassment’.

Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne told MailOnline the government’s ‘dismal’ handling of the testing crisis will send vast numbers of British businesses to the wall – and delay the country’s economic recovery. 

Experts have insisted ‘organisation’ rather than a shortage of facilities is to blame for the painfully slow rise in checks.

However, there are also suggestions that the UK is struggling to obtain enough of the tests themselves, with Germany seemingly able to acquire them from domestic manufacturers while Britain is having to import them. 

It came amid reports that NHS England and NHS Wales ended up bidding against each other for testing equipment at the end of last week, prompting the four Home Nations to agree that all procurement will be done in Whitehall.

Michael Gove today said the UK must go 'further, faster' in ramping up its coronavirus testing efforts

Michael Gove today said the UK must go 'further, faster' in ramping up its coronavirus testing efforts

Michael Gove today said the UK must go ‘further, faster’ in ramping up its coronavirus testing efforts

A nurse takes a swab from an NHS worker at a testing facility in Chessington yesterday

A nurse takes a swab from an NHS worker at a testing facility in Chessington yesterday

A nurse takes a swab from an NHS worker at a testing facility in Chessington yesterday

Germany has been conducting 500,000 tests a week and is aiming to hit 200,000 tests a day in the near future. 

Part of the difference between the UK and Germany is reportedly that the latter has more tests available domestically. 

There are also claims that a shipment of testing kit parts from the European mainland has been found to be contaminated with the virus, in another potential delay. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted this morning that the government was struggling with the logistical challenge of increasing testing, saying it was not a ‘trivial or straightforward’ task.

‘This is never going to be enough,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. We always need to be pushing.’

Ministers boasted on Sunday that they had reached a target of 10,000 tests a day.  

However, while the capacity has been reached, the government has yet to actually carry out that number. The latest figures from Public Health England were 8,278 in the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday, which was actually down from 9,114 the previous day.  

The numbers have sparked widespread concerns about the UK approach to testing. 

Mr Hunt, the chairman of the Health Select Committee, said it would be ‘very worrying’ if the UK chose not to follow the lead of the likes of Germany and South Korea. 

He said mass testing allows for ‘a lot less’ disruption to daily lives because those who have the disease can be isolated and prevented from passing the virus on.  

He said: ‘It is internationally proven as the most effective way of breaking the chain of transmission.

‘So however difficult it is to source the reagents, to ramp up the capacity of laboratories up and down the country, it is essential that mass community testing is part of our national strategy.’

Mr Farage told MailOnline: ‘Testing is a catastrophe. It’s an embarrassment. We do not appear to have done anything in six weeks to get ourselves in a better position on this.

‘If I was an NHS frontline worker waiting week after week after week for this I would be furious.’

He added: ‘70,000 tests a day in Germany, a million tests now conducted in America, and we in six weeks have managed to do as many tests as the Germans do in two days.

‘Everybody wants to believe in their leader during a crisis and everyone has given Boris the benefit of the doubt… I think public opinion is beginning to ask very serious questions.’

Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne told MailOnline that the government’s ‘dismal’ handling of the testing crisis will send vast numbers of British businesses to the wall – and delay the country’s economic recovery.

The gym mogul and former Dragons’ Den star said: ‘The Government must get on top of testing immediately. The longer we are in lockdown the more businesses will go bust. 

‘My business hands over £39million to the Government every year in VAT, PAYE and corporation tax. As long as we are closed they get nothing.

‘Their handling of the testing issue has been dismal to say the least.’         

CHEMICAL REAGENTS: NECESSARY FOR TESTING BUT IN HIGH GLOBAL DEMAND 

A global shortage of the chemicals needed to produce coronavirus tests has emerged as another setback in the UK’s plans to test more people.

Industry bosses say chemical reagents that are used in the test are in short supply around the world as countries have scrambled to test their citizens for COVID-19. 

Lab tests for the coronavirus work by regrowing a patient’s DNA in a lab and examining it to find traces of genetic material left behind by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

For this to work, technicians need a chemical called a reagent to trigger the chemical reaction which starts the process. 

There are various types of reagents which can be used in a COVID-19 test, supplied by different companies around the world, but they are in high demand everywhere. They are not unique to coronavirus and are the same reagents used in tests for illnesses such as flu.

The US has 10 different types of reagent listed in the priority list by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not clear whether the UK is using reagents manufactured on home soil or importing them. 

Some NHS labs have now resorted to make their own in ‘home brew’ situations so they can test patients, The Times reported.

Officials are now scrambling to see if there are alternatives to their first choice, according to the newspaper, and are also trying to shore up supplies of swabs, which are vital for tests.

CEO of pharmaceutical company Roche, Severin Schwan, said ‘demand is outstripping supply’ for the reagents. ‘Widespread testing is simply not possible,’ he added.

While the Professional Association of Laboratory Medics in Germany said: ‘The materials required for testing – sample kits, materials for extracting samples, and reagents – are becoming scarce’.

The Australian Medical Association sounded the alarm there two weeks ago, when it said some parts of the government had failed to stockpile the right reagents, The Guardian reported.

It said global demand was ‘exceeding supply’ and that ‘there are particular concerns around supplies of swabs and DNA extraction kits’.

Professor Anthony Costello, an ex-director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) who is now based at University College London, dismissed the idea that the UK does not have enough laboratory facilities to process the tests. 

‘We need a policy of mass community testing as well as the blunt instrument of social distancing,’ he told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme. 

‘We need to do that because we want to arrow in on detecting cases and contact and quarantine. We need to have enough tests to protect our health workers… 

‘But most important when we want to loosen up the lockdown we want to have control over that. 

‘There will be much less disruption if we can do that rather than isolating the entire economy.’

He went on: ‘In answer to can we do it, we have 44 molecular virology labs in the UK. 

‘If they were doing 400 tests a day we would be up to Germany levels of testing and that is perfectly feasible.

Asked whether he was saying that the UK has the capacity but is just not organising it properly, Prof Costello said: ‘Yeah, correct. I don’t see why we cannot get these 44 molecular virology labs up and running, finding the cases and testing. 

‘PHE were slow and controlled, and they only allowed non-PHE labs to start testing two weeks ago. But that was after the strategy shift to stopping community tests.

‘We need to be like Korea…. their death rate is three per million and they have suppressed the virus.’ 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has praised countries like South Korea have for their wide-scale testing regimes, which have helped limit cases.  

However, the UK shelved efforts to test everyone with symptoms on March 12, when Britain’s response moved into a ‘delay’ phase.

Instead people who thought they had the illness were urged to self-isolate unless their conditions became so severe they needed medical help. 

Amid criticism, Mr Johnson then declared just under a fortnight ago that there would be a big expansion of tests from under 5,000 a day to 25,000. 

Routine testing is only just being offered to NHS staff, with 800 per day expected to get access to tests. There are fears that many will have been put at risk, amid complaints that they do not even have enough personal protection kit.  

A global shortage of the chemicals needed to produce coronavirus tests has emerged as another setback in the UK’s plans to test more people.

Industry bosses say chemical reagents that are used in the test are in short supply around the world as countries have scrambled to test their citizens for COVID-19. 

Lab tests for the coronavirus work by regrowing a patient’s DNA in a lab and examining it to find traces of genetic material left behind by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

For this to work, technicians need a chemical called a reagent to trigger the chemical reaction which starts the process. 

There are various types of reagents which can be used in a COVID-19 test, supplied by different companies around the world, but they are in high demand everywhere. They are not unique to coronavirus and are the same reagents used in tests for illnesses such as flu.

Germany is set to start mass immunity testing within weeks 

Germany has also been leading the way on testing for individuals who have already been through the virus and emerged with immunity. Such checks could potentially allow people to be issued with certificates saying they are safe to go back to work – easing the lockdown crippling the economy.

The UK government has ordered 17.5million ‘antibody’ tests, but they have yet to go through clinical trials and it is not clear when they can start being used.

A study due to start in Germany in mid-April will see the blood of more than 100,000 volunteers tested for Covid-19 antibodies. 

The process will be repeated at regular intervals, with the sample scaling up to track the progress of the epidemic.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Germany appears to be leading the way in the testing and we have much to learn from their approach. 

‘I’ve repeatedly called for more testing and contact tracing in the UK, and we should be looking at initiatives like this closely.’ 

The US has 10 different types of reagent listed in the priority list by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is not clear whether the UK is using reagents manufactured on home soil or importing them. 

Some NHS labs have now resorted to make their own in ‘home brew’ situations so they can test patients, The Times reported.

Germany has also been leading the way on testing for individuals who have already been through the virus and emerged with immunity. Such checks could potentially allow people to be issued with certificates saying they are safe to go back to work – easing the lockdown crippling the economy.

The UK government has ordered 17.5million ‘antibody’ tests, but they have yet to go through clinical trials and it is not clear when they can start being used.

A study due to start in Germany in mid-April will see the blood of more than 100,000 volunteers tested for Covid-19 antibodies. 

The process will be repeated at regular intervals, with the sample scaling up to track the progress of the epidemic.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: ‘Germany appears to be leading the way in the testing and we have much to learn from their approach. 

‘I’ve repeatedly called for more testing and contact tracing in the UK, and we should be looking at initiatives like this closely.’  

The scale of the problem facing the UK was underlined today with figures suggesting the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak could be 24 per cent higher than NHS figures show.

Patients who had COVID-19 mentioned on their death certificates numbered 210 in England and Wales up to March 20, the Office for National Statistics revealed.

That was 24 per cent higher than the 170 deaths recorded by NHS England and Public Health Wales during the same time frame.

If the ratio has stayed true since that time, the true current number of fatalities could be around 1,739 instead of the official 1,408. 

Lord Hague today warned Mr Johnson he must show UK businesses a ‘way out’ of the coronavirus crisis by the end of April – or risk thousands of firms permanently closing their doors. 

Lord Hague said many businesses will choose to shut down if they are not given ‘hope’ in the form of a government plan for what will happen after the current state of lockdown ends.

The former foreign secretary said the government’s blueprint for recovery must include a ‘massive and compulsory’ testing programme so the UK is better able to withstand future outbreaks of the deadly disease.  

He said the ability to test and trace people in the way that South Korea has been doing will be key because it will give ministers the ability to contain the spread and allow businesses to stay open. 

The ex-Tory leader said a failure to pursue massive testing capacity would likely result in the UK facing an economic depression rather than just a recession. And he called for one minister to be put in charge of overseeing the development of the future action plan so they are not distracted by day-to-day events.

 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

Source: | NHS

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