Coronavirus: British artist given all clear after China return

By Duncan Leatherdale
BBC News Online

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image copyrightMichael Hope
image captionArtist Michael Hope has been living in Wuhan for a year and a half

A British artist who spent two days in quarantine with suspected coronavirus before being given the all clear has said he fears for his friends in China.

Michael Hope, 45, has spent the past year and a half teaching art in the Chinese city Wuhan, where the new virus first broke out.

He was quarantined after returning to Newcastle on Sunday. Tests have since revealed he had flu.

Four other people in British hospitals have been cleared. Nine await results.

Mr Hope said he first became aware of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 800 people and killed 26, when he returned to Wuhan from a holiday on 2 December.

image copyrightMichael Hope
image captionMr Hope taught art in the Chinese city

"One of my friends mentioned in passing that there was a mystery illness from a food market and several people had become ill," he said.

"It was just said in passing so seemed to be nothing too serious, a general daily topic."

He said he noticed more people "gradually starting to wear masks" but "didn't know much about it" as there is very little English spoken in the city.

"Around 4 January I started to develop a really nasty cough but didn't connect the two."

media captionWhat's life like in quarantined Wuhan?

His symptoms became progressively worse and included coughing to the point of vomiting, a blocked nose and other "basic things" associated with a bad cold.

When he arrived in Newcastle on Sunday, Mr Hope was urged by friends and family to contact a local doctor.

"I had no idea of the extent of what was happening in China," he said.

"Most western media is banned in China so the only information I had was what I read in the Chinese press.

image copyrightMichael Hope
image captionMr Hope lived in Saudi Arabia for two years before moving to China

"When I was leaving Wuhan to take a train to Shanghai, there were thousands and thousands of people leaving the city, travelling all over the country, going home for the New Year celebrations.

"Almost everyone was wearing masks like I've never seen before. I was not wearing one as I was not aware of the extent of what was happening.

"It's sometimes hard for non-Chinese speakers to get a real grasp of what is happening."

media captionThe BBC's online health editor talks us through what we know about the virus

Mr Hope's GP contacted other health professionals and the artist was taken into quarantine in a British hospital on Wednesday afternoon. The BBC has been asked not to name the hospital for security reasons.

"I felt like ET," Mr Hope said. He was sealed in a room with air locks and doctors and nurses were required to wear protective clothing when approaching him.

"It was totally bonkers but the staff were great. They are obviously very well trained and set up for this kind of thing. As scary as it was, it was also kind of impressive."

He underwent blood, urine and throat swab tests before an agonising wait for the results.

"I was trying to stay calm and relax and was sleeping lots," he said.

On Thursday night the tests came back negative and Mr Hope said he was flooded with relief.

But he remains concerned for his friends - and students - in China.

image copyrightMichael Hope
image captionHe did not wear a face mask after the outbreak, although he has worn one on previous travels

"I feel sad for my friends there and everyone else who can't just jump on a flight like I had the privilege of doing," he said.

"I feel sad for China having to deal with this, but I feel frustrated that markets that keep live animals are not properly regulated.

"It's just very worrying."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said while there was an "increased likelihood" of cases of the new coronavirus occurring in the UK, the government was "well prepared" to deal with them.

image copyrightMichael Hope
image captionMr Hope said he would take some time off before planning his next international trip

The risk to the UK population has been assessed as low while the risk to travellers to Wuhan is moderate, Public Health England (PHE) said.

The agency is advising anyone who has been to Wuhan within the past 14 days and has developed respiratory symptoms to phone NHS 111.

Those symptoms include a cough, a sneeze, shortness of breath, or a fever.

Learn more about the new virus

image copyrightGetty

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