Hertfordshire’s director of public health says "there is no great cause for alarm" about the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Around 28,000 coronavirus cases have been reported in China – with a further 265 around the world, including three in the UK.

Dozens of UK residents are currently in ‘containment’ following their return from Wuhan, in China –  where the first cases were diagnosed.

Councillors at Hertfordshire County Council’s public health and prevention cabinet panel asked director of public health Jim McManus to address concerns surrounding the virus.

And while he advocated residents take good hygiene measures such as regular hand-washing and following the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ advice – he said it was entirely possible there would not be an outbreak in the UK.

He highlighted the relative death rates and infection rates of the virus, specifically known as 2019-nCoV, which were shown to be broadly similar to the flu.

And he said the steps taken by the Chinese authorities had “massively disrupted” the spread of the disease.

Mr McManus told councillors the death rate from the virus is thought to be around 2.2 per cent – which he said is not much higher than flu.

It is considerably lower than the death rate for Ebola (70 per cent) and SARS (10 per cent).

He also suggested that not all of those suffering from the latest strain of the coronavirus will have reported it – meaning the death rate could be even lower.

“We don’t know the number of cases where people have been unwell, but not gone to hospital,” he said.

“So there could be a number of people who thought they had a cold, but actually had the coronavirus.

“Most people have mild to moderate symptoms – although older people and those with pre-existing health conditions seem to suffer more severe symptoms.”

Mr McManus suggested that those infected with the virus typically pass it to two or three people – which is broadly similar to flu.

That is less than a case of measles, which would spread to 18; mumps, which would spread to between four and seven, and SARS, which would spread to between two and five.

There is no vaccine or specific treatment against the virus. And Mr McManus said the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ advice remained the best way to disrupt the spread.

He also pointed to advice to wash hands regularly – every two hours – and to keep surfaces clean with household detergent.

Mr McManus highlighted the cases in the UK and said that if containment measures continued to work, there may not be an outbreak in the UK.

Officially the risk to the UK posed by the virus is said to be “moderate”. But Mr McManus stressed that this was a measure of the risk of getting cases in the UK.

And he stressed that the risk of UK residents catching the virus remained low.

He also said the UK should be grateful to the Chinese authorities for the step they had taken to cause massive disruption to the spread of the virus.

Mr McManus was asked if patients could catch the virus twice, and he said this was not certain.

He was also asked if the pneumonia vaccine would be beneficial, and he suggested that all those eligible for it should take it up.

Cllr Fiona Guest highlighted reports that Chinese people had been discriminated against and been spat at in connection with reports of the outbreak.

Executive member for public health and prevention Cllr Tim Hutchings said he wanted to make it clear that that would not be tolerated.

He said he was confident the county was well prepared in case there were cases of coronavirus – and emphasised the messages about hygiene.

He said: “I think the risk here is low – but it would be foolish not to take all the steps we need to take.

“I am confident we are well-prepared if it does occur. But we need to emphasise what we have been saying about hygiene.”