Health officials in Scotland are to begin testing some people with flu-like symptoms for coronavirus, even if they have not visited affected areas.
The stepping up of the testing regime has been described as a precautionary measure, but it is thought it could help detection if there is an outbreak in Scotland.
Hospitals and GP surgeries will now begin testing some patients suffering from coughs, fevers and shortness of breath – regardless of whether they have travelled to parts of the world hit by Covid-19.
Using existing NHS monitoring measures, a network of 41 GP practices will start sending samples for testing from patients who report such symptoms.
In addition, pneumonia patients in critical care units will also be tested for the virus.
Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said: “Scotland is well-prepared for a significant outbreak of coronavirus but there is currently no treatment or vaccine. Early detection measures will be vital in helping to prevent the spread of the virus in the event of an outbreak.
“Hospitals and GP surgeries will now conduct tests on some patients with coughs, fevers or shortness of breath – regardless of whether they have travelled to a place where the virus is known to be spreading.
“Not everyone with flu will be tested, but this is a sensible step to take as a precautionary measure to give us an early warning of community transmission.
“People have a vital role to play in helping us contain any outbreak by following the latest health and travel advice and following basic hygiene precautions, such as washing hands frequently, not touching their face and covering their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.”
The Scottish Government said it is well-prepared to deal with a potential outbreak.
It has implemented a range of measures including training Scottish Ambulance Service staff to support the transport of patients who may be infectious, and has delivered face masks to GP practices as a precautionary measure.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “In Scotland we have a proven track record of dealing with challenging health issues and while all tests have so far come back negative, it is highly likely that we will see a positive case soon as coronavirus continues to spread around the world.
“As part of our efforts we are working with the UK Government, Wales and Northern Ireland to publish a coordinated response in the coming days.
“Staff across the Scottish Government, its agencies and key partners are stepping up work to deal with the potential consequences of a coronavirus outbreak. This includes prioritising key activity to keep Scotland running should the situation change, but also to ensure that all sectors can play their part in managing the response.
“Led by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, our clinicians and Health Protection Scotland are working closely with their counterparts across the UK to guarantee a consistent and joined up approach.
“We will continue to ensure we are as prepared as possible for the likelihood of coronavirus cases in Scotland and will continue to work with health boards, local authorities and other governments across the UK in ensuring that plans and preparations are in place to respond.”