Patients have been told to stay away from doctors surgeries and A&E if they are worried they might have contracted the coronavirus.
After a GP practice at Buxton closed following a confirmed case, Dr Paul Scott, chairman of the North Staffs Medical Committee, urged people to ring 111 instead if they suspect they may be infected.
Dr Scott, senior partner at Silverdale and Ryecroft Medical Practice, said: “There is an awful lot of worried, ill people, or people coming back from holidays and ringing up.
“The key message is, if you are ill, just use services as normal.
“But if you have come back from one of the at risk areas and then become unwell, do not go to a GP or to A&E or a pharmacist. Ring 111 and they will give guidance.
“Going to a surgery where there will be other patients who are potentially unwell is the last place you should visit. There has already been a GP practice in Derbyshire closed because of it.
“If someone turns up at our reception we are sending them back out to ring 111 from their cars.
“If someone misleads us and we see a patient who believes they may have it, we have to leave the room and get them to leave, and then clean the surgery.
“It’s about containment and appropriate treatment.
“Patients with suspected coronavirus would not be taken to A&E, they would go to the infectious diseases ward.”
Coronavirus – named Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation – has now been seen in more than 30 different countries and has infected more than 82,000 people worldwide, with over 2,800 deaths. The UK so far has 15 confirmed cases.
Symptoms appear to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough, which can then lead to shortness of breath and some patients needing hospital treatment.
So far most people who have tested positive for Covid-19 – 82 per cent – have only presented with mild symptoms.
Covid-19 has yet to be confirmed in Stoke-on-Trent, but two Trentham Academy students are in isolation after coming down with symptoms following a ski trip to northern Italy. They are awaiting the results of tests.
But, amid fears of a global pandemic, the Government has said that the UK is prepared for all eventualities.
Health officials are working on containment, which involves spotting cases quickly, isolating them and chasing up any contacts they have had to ensure it is not spread.
Of the 15 cases so far confirmed in the UK, all have picked up the infection abroad.
Schools are not advised to close while pupils are tested for Covid-19, but cleaning of specific areas and disposing of waste is required. In most cases a school will not close even if a pupil is confirmed with Covid-19, but the Government says that will be a local decision based on a number of factors.
In the workplace, employees are advised not to wear face masks.
Guidance published by the Government says face masks are only recommended to be worn by ‘symptomatic individuals’ to reduce the risk of transmitting the infection to other people.
The Business Department and Public Health England recommended that the best way to reduce any risk of infection is good hygiene and avoiding direct or close contact with any potentially infected person.
The guidance, aimed at employers and businesses, says that if someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has travelled to China or other affected countries, they should be removed to an area at least two metres away from other people, preferably isolated behind a closed door, and should then call 111, or 999 in an emergency.
The guidance says: “They should avoid touching people, surfaces and objects and be advised to cover their mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when they cough or sneeze and put the tissue in a bag or pocket then throw the tissue in the bin.
“If they don’t have any tissues available, they should cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.”
NHS England will launch a public awareness campaign next week urging Britons to regularly wash their hands for 20 seconds. Messages will be sent out encouraging people to wash their hands when they get to work, after using public transport and before eating.
The World Health Organisation also advises people to cover mouth and nose when sneezing – ideally with a tissue – and wash hands afterwards. It recommends people avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, and keep a distance of at least 1m or 3ft between them and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.