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Public Health England (PHE) today announced a new surveillance system for early detection of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Part of the efforts to strengthen the existing systems and to prepare for and prevent wider transmission of the virus, the new system will be implemented in intensive care units and Severe Respiratory Failure (ECMO) Centres of some NHS hospitals.

It will enable the agency to identify early evidence of spread within England.

Samples will be tested from patients with severe respiratory infections who do not meet the current case definition of COVID-19. Depending on the results, patients will be given the support they need and rapid public health actions will be taken.

Eight hospitals have so far confirmed their participation in the scheme.

“There is no change in risk for the public but taking this preparatory step now will enable us to better detect and contain the spread of the virus. The UK’s infection control procedures are world-leading, and the system we are announcing today further strengthens our response,” said Professor Yvonne Doyle, PHE’s Medical Director.

A programme of testing with a network of around 100 primary care sites across England will also complement the detection system in hospitals so that both mild and more unwell cases can be found.

PHE clarified that the new process will not apply to patients meeting the current coronavirus case definition, who will continue to be isolated and tested as appropriate, and the test results will not be affected.

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