Britain faces ‘serious trouble’ if coronavirus mutates into pandemic

Britain would be in “serious trouble” if the coronavirus crisis deepens, it has been claimed.

Experts warned the hospital wards where many patients could end up being treated are already “understaffed and overstretched”.

And a severe outbreak of the killer flu would be “very challenging”, according to the British Thoracic Society.

The charity’s chairman, Professor Jon Bennett, told The Independent: “A severe coronavirus outbreak will be very challenging.

“I have tried desperately not to think about it because when you do it is a very worrying situation.

“We would be in serious trouble.”

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He added: “The struggle to provide quality care for respiratory patients in the winter is worsened by respiratory staff shortages.

“It’s already difficult to hire the staff hospitals need throughout the year, never mind finding an untapped, seasonal source of respiratory professionals for the winter months only.”

The charity’s winter pressures survey found 73% of respiratory department workers feel staff shortages are impairing the ability of their hospitals to cope.

More than half – 57% – say there are no extra staff available in their department, while a fifth say the extra ‘winter’ beds now never close.

Disease specialists have said the UK should expect more infected patients without direct China links as the virus continues its spread in Europe.

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Professor Rowland Kao, chairman of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh, said there will be “a need for continued vigilance with appropriate control measures for some time”.

Dr Tom Wingfield, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said: "There are likely to be some more cases in the coming weeks but the UK public can be reassured that we have experienced teams in place to manage the isolation and care of people diagnosed with coronavirus and perform robust tracing and screening of their contacts.”

A government spokesman said: "We have been clear from the outset that we expect coronavirus to have some impact on the UK and a global pandemic could have a pronounced effect on the NHS, which is why we are planning for every eventuality.

“Public safety is our top priority and we have a team of public health experts and scientists working round the clock to make sure the NHS and UK more widely is fully prepared.”

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