The Royal Free NHS hospital is London, where some of the UK nationals that have been confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV strain of the novel coronavirus have been taken. Photo: AFP

The British government on Monday warned the outbreak of novel coronavirus was a “serious and imminent threat,” doubling the number of cases recorded in the country from four to eight.

Anyone with the virus can now be forcibly quarantined if they are deemed to pose a public health threat, the government said.

Two hospitals have been designated as “isolation” facilities, both of which currently house Britons who have returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak.

“The incidence or transmission of novel coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health,” the Health Ministry said.

Britain’s Press Association news agency quoted a government source as saying the new measures had been announced because one person who returned from China on an evacuation flight “was threatening to abscond” from 14-day isolation.

The new patients who tested positive in Britain are all known contacts of a previously confirmed case in France, the ministry said.

Health authorities were unable to say if these are the same cases reported by the French authorities on Saturday when contacted by AFP.

Five UK nationals who tested positive in France came into contact with a Briton who had returned from Singapore and stayed at a ski chalet near Mont Blanc in the French Alps.

The man was originally from Brighton, southeast England, where he was diagnosed on his return before being transferred to London.

A medical centre in Brighton said Monday it had temporarily closed for “an urgent operational health and safety reason”.

The BBC and Sky News said one of the center’s staff members had tested positive for the virus, although this was not officially confirmed.

The Health Ministry in London insisted it was “extremely well prepared” to manage and treat cases.

Two evacuation flights have returned British nationals from Wuhan and they have been taken into quarantine for two weeks.


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