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Women told NOT to have IVF amid the coronavirus outbreak

Women are told NOT to have IVF amid coronavirus outbreak over fears the bug causes them to give birth prematurely as mother-to-be voices concerns about going into labour during the health crisis

  • European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology advised against IVF
  • Those who are already having IVF should consider freezing their eggs, it added
  • Many of 68,000 women who have IVF every year have little time to delay
  • Premature births have been in reported in China but data is limited, experts say 
  • Pregnant mother says she’s concerned about giving birth in a month’s time 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Women are being urged not to have IVF amid the coronavirus outbreak over fears the virus negatively affects pregnancy. 

A statement issued by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology says all couples considering fertility treatment ‘should avoid becoming pregnant at this time’.

It advised those who are already having IVF to consider freezing their eggs or the embryos they have created for a pregnancy until the pandemic is halted.

Meanwhile a mother-to-be is concerned hospitals will be overwhelmed when she is due to give birth next month.  

Women are being urged not to have IVF amid the coronavirus outbreak over fears the virus negatively affects pregnancy (file)

The call to arms comes after the UK suffered 407 more coronavirus infections and another death. It means there are now officially 1,950 people with the disease and 71 have succumbed to it

Natalie Lyons, pictured with her son Hudson, is due to give birth in a month’s time. The 33-year-old from Derby says she is ‘trying not to panic’ but is struggling to pick up essential items as her due date nears 

Natalie Lyons, from Derby, is due to give birth to her second child in a month. She says she is doing her best not to panic, but is concerned about hospitals becoming overwhelmed and has struggled to get hold of supplies such as nappies.

The 33-year-old mother-of-one has followed the Government’s advice and yesterday stopped her job as a hairdresser to start maternity leave three weeks early.

‘I’m trying not to panic but when you have a baby you need all these supplies, and how are we meant to get them if we’re advised to stay inside?’

ESHRE says all those considering or planning treatment to have a baby should put it on hold as a ‘precautionary measure’.

But many of the 68,000 women who choose to have IVF every year in the UK are in their late thirties and have little time to delay. 

It comes following reports of women infected with coronavirus giving birth to premature babies in China.

However ESHRE – which provides guidance for fertility clinics across Europe and in the UK – notes the reports are based on limited data with ‘no strong evidence’.

Pregnant women do not appear to be more susceptible to coronavirus than others and mothers are being advised to carry on breastfeeding, according to a new report. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have released new guidelines for pregnant women in relation to the coronavirus and have confirmed that there is no evidence the virus can be passed to an unborn baby. 

As a precautionary approach, pregnant women with suspected or confirmed coronavirus when they go into labour are being advised to attend an obstetric unit – which has more doctors than a normal midwifery unit – for birth.

The world’s youngest coronavirus victim is a newborn baby in London, whose mother also tested positive for the disease after giving birth. 


The mother was rushed to hospital days ago with suspected pneumonia but her positive result was only known after the birth.

They were treated at separate hospitals – the baby at North Middlesex and the mother at a specialist infections hospital.

According to The Sun, the baby is now ‘out of danger’ and recovering well.  

It is believed the baby was infected after the birth from coughs or sneezes and it was tested within minutes of its arrival. 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has also advised that healthy babies should not be separated from infected mothers and can be breastfed. 

Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

‘As this is a very new virus we are just beginning to learn about it, so the guidance will be kept under regular review as new evidence emerges.

‘Over the coming weeks and months it is likely pregnant women in the UK will test positive for coronavirus. While the data is currently limited it is reassuring that there is no evidence that the virus can pass to a baby during pregnancy.’ 

In its statement, ESHRE said: ‘As a precautionary measure – and in line with the position of other scientific societies in reproductive medicine – we advise that all fertility patients considering or planning treatment, even if they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for Covid-19 infection, should avoid becoming pregnant at this time.’

The NHS today revealed it would send pregnant staff to lower risk hospitals in areas with few cases of the virus as the crisis escalates over fears for their safety.  

And mothers-to-be are strongly advised to follow social distancing measures – such as avoiding public transport, socialising in groups or going to the cinema or reataruants.  

Despite this, the Royal College of Midwives yesterday urged them to attend antenatal appointments.

The UK’s chief medical adviser, Professor Chris Whitty, said there is currently no evidence to suggest any coronavirus-related complications in pregnancy. 

But he added the UK was still ‘very early in what we know about this’, stating: ‘Infections and pregnancy are not a good combination in general and that is why we have taken the very precautionary measure while we try and find out more.’ 

Yesterday the Prime Minister said millions of the elderly and most vulnerable will need to ‘shield’ themselves from social contact and stay at home for three months.

But the advice stopped short of defining explicitly who needs to stay at home. 

Pregnant women in the UK are expected to be among those told in the coming days to self-isolate for 12 weeks and avoid non-essential contact with others.

Boris Johnson acknowledged that ‘drastic action’ was required to quell the spread of the deadly coronavirus which has killed 55 and infected more than 1,500 throughout the country.

By the weekend, those with the most serious conditions will be advised to take steps to ensure they are ‘largely shielded from social contact’ for around 12 weeks. 

It comes after NHS hospitals were told to cancel operations for three months in a bid to free up 30,000 beds in preparation for a surge in coronavirus patients.   

In a call to arms letter sent to hospital bosses today, NHS England said trusts should cancel all non-urgent surgeries starting from April 15 for at least 12 weeks.

It is hoped the measure could free up a third of the 100,000 hospital beds in England so the health service is not overwhelmed by the pandemic. 

Staff who have family members self-isolating at home will also be offered to stay in a hotel for free so they can continue working and not have to join them in quarantine.

Healthy people below the age of 70 have been urged to work from home if they can, to avoid socialising or going out and to stop all non-essential travel

A woman is pictured wearing a face mask in London Waterloo. People should avoid all ‘non-essential’ travel and contact with other people, the Government has warned

A man is pictured wearing a face mask in London Waterloo station this morning. The UK is now on red alert for coronavirus and train services could soon be reduced or stopped as people work from home

Shoppers queue to enter the Costco wholesale supermarket in north London as panic-buying grips the nation amid the outbreak

The letter, which laid out the health service’s coronavirus battle plan, also called for all inpatients who are medically fit to be discharged immediately. 

It stated that staff must take part in special training for dealing with a high number of patients on ventilators and begin work setting up makeshift intensive care wards.

The call to arms comes after the UK suffered 407 more coronavirus infections and two more deaths. It means there are now officially 1,950 people with the disease and 71 have succumbed to it. 

Any cancer operations and patients needing emergency treatment will not be affected by the new measures.

The letter from NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: ‘The operational aim is to expand critical care capacity to the maximum; free up 30,000 (or more) of the English NHS’s 100,000 general and acute beds.

‘Assume that you will need to postpone all non-urgent elective operations from 15 April at the latest, for a period of at least three months. 

‘However you also have full local discretion to wind down elective activity over the next 30 days as you see best, so as to free up staff for refresher training, beds for Covid-19 patients, and theatres/recovery facilities for adaptation work.’

In the meantime hospitals were told to do as much elective surgery, such as hip operations and knee replacements, as possible so that by mid-April there are thousands more free beds. 

Sir Simon warned frontline staff that dealing with the outbreak was going to be ‘a very difficult time’.

He said those required to self-isolate because a family member has symptoms or has tested positive will be offered to stay in a hotel.  

The letter adds: ‘For those staff affected by PHE’s 14 day household isolation policy, staff should – on an entirely voluntary basis – be offered the alternative option of staying in NHS-reimbursed hotel accommodation while they continue to work.’

Pregnant, elderly and staff with underlying conditions will either be moved to lower risk hospitals in areas with few cases, according to the document. 

Clinicians who fall under this category will be able to do online or video consultations from home. 

As well as keeping staff healthy, Sir Simon said it was vital NHS staff were trained about how to care for ventilated patients. 

He gave trusts two weeks to put ‘all clinical and patient facing staff’ through refresher training.  

Sir Simon added that patients who did not need to be in hospital should be discharged as quickly as possible adding: ‘Community health providers must take immediate full responsibility for urgent discharge of all eligible patients identified by acute providers on a discharge list. 

‘For those needing social care, emergency legislation before Parliament this week will ensure that eligibility assessments do not delay discharge. 

Sir Simon Stevens (pictured at Downing Street today) issued a letter to NHS hospital bosses  laying out the health service’s coronavirus battle plan

Sir Simon Stevens said it was vital NHS staff were trained about how to care for ventilated patients. Graphic shows how a ventilator helps patients with respiratory problems breathe

‘This could potentially free up to 15,000 acute beds currently occupied by patients awaiting discharge or with lengths of stay over 21 days.’

The letter confirmed that recently retired staff would be asked to return to the health service during the crisis and that medical students would be fast tracked into the NHS. 

As the NHS ramped up its coronavirus efforts, the government’s chief scientific adviser today revealed there are likely to be as many as 55,000 cases of coronavirus in the UK. 

Sir Patrick Vallance said modelling of the spread of the disease in Britain showed that for every death there was likely to be 1,000 positive cases. 

Latest official statistics put the death toll at 55 which means it is a ‘reasonable sort of ballpark’ to think there are now more than 50,000 cases nationwide, he said. 

Last week the government estimated the number of cases was likely to be between 5-10,000. 


What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

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