Health

Coronavirus: What does being in quarantine mean?

A US plane flies 200 American people to the US from China Image copyright EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT

Two hundred British citizens are being flown out of Wuhan - the centre of the new coronavirus outbreak - and back to the UK, where they will be quarantined for 14 days.

It comes on the day it was announced two people in England unconnected with the flight had tested positive for the virus.

The plane will land at RAF Brize Norton and people will be transported by bus to an NHS facility in the north west of England.

What does 'quarantine' mean?

It means restricting the movement of well people in case they develop a disease, become infectious and spread it to others.

This usually entails keeping a group of people separate and isolated from the general public.

Why do this now?

Health experts are worried that the Britons returning from China could develop the new coronavirus, which has affected thousands of people, and infect other people in the UK.

So the government chartered a plane to bring them back.

Keeping the returning Britons in quarantine gives doctors time to see if they develop symptoms or test positive for coronavirus over the next two weeks.

The returning Britons may look perfectly well, but it is possible they may have been exposed to the virus and not know it, or may have the virus but be showing no symptoms.

While they are quarantined, the general public is being protected from contact with anyone who may be infected.

Where will they go?

The plane will land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire and people will then be transported by bus to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.

They will be housed in former NHS staff accommodation, separate to the main hospital.

It is likely that everyone on the plane will be tested for the virus when they land, using a throat swab - those who test positive could be isolated, while those with symptoms are likely to be taken to hospital.

Everyone else may then be observed for symptoms developing over the next two weeks in their temporary home.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The virus is causing severe lung disease in some people

Has this worked in the past?

"The UK has never transported back a large group of people from another country to put them in quarantine," says Dr Nathalie MacDermott, from King's College London.

She says quarantining works on several levels. It helps to keep the public calm and media attention to a minimum, while making sure the virus does not spread.

As an alternative, people are often advised to "self-isolate" themselves - stay at home - if they are infectious.

But this is not always easy to achieve, Dr MacDermott says.

Who will be treating them?

Doctors, nurses and screening experts may all be involved at various points.

If anyone on the plane does develop the virus, they will be given the best possible care and medical advice, according to the government.

What tests are used?

Tests for coronavirus involve taking samples from a person's nose, throat and deeper respiratory tract.

These samples are then sent to a laboratory which can provide a result within 24 hours.

Is protective clothing needed?

The BBC understands that health officials providing care and advice will wear protective suits.

The crew of the aircraft and bus drivers will also have to wear protective clothing.

A medic in a protective suit was spotted in Birmingham escorting a man suspected of having the virus to an ambulance on Tuesday.

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