The UK government updated its COVID-19 advice on Monday, adding the loss of smell and taste to the list of symptoms induced by coronavirus.
“From today, all individuals should self-isolate if they develop a new continuous cough or fever or anosmia,” the government statement said.
“Anosmia is the loss or a change in your normal sense of smell. It can also affect your sense of taste as the two are closely linked.
“We have been closely monitoring the emerging data and evidence on Covid-19 and after thorough consideration, we are now confident enough to recommend this new measure.
“The individual’s household should also self-isolate for 14 days as per the current guidelines and the individual should stay at home for 7 days, or longer if they still have symptoms other than cough or loss of sense of smell or taste.”
The statement was signed by the four chief medical officers of the United Kingdom: Prof. Chris Whitty in England, Dr. Gregor Smith in Scotland, Dr. Frank Atherton in Wales, and Dr. Michael McBride in Northern Ireland.
The other two official symptoms of coronavirus are a persistent cough and high fever.
Other countries, including the US, have already added the symptom to their official list. Some have criticized the British government for not adding anosmia to their list of symptoms sooner.
Prof. Nirmal Kumar, the president of ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat surgery) UK told the Daily Mail: “We’re relieved that this has finally been accepted but we alerted people about this eight weeks ago. Everyone else, including the World Health Organization, took it up urgently, but it has certainly taken too long here.
“The prevalence is widespread. We used to see these patients occasionally but now we see them regularly. If we had recognised this earlier, we would have reduced the spread. The reproduction rate of the virus would have been lower.”
Deputy chief medical officer Prof. Jonathan Van-Tam said on Monday: “The reason for making the change now is that there has been a signal around the importance of anosmia as a symptom of COVID-19 for a while now.
“It has been important to continue to look at that and be sure that we consider it and introduce it at the right time,” he said. “This has been quite a difficult piece of science.”
“With a cough or fever, sensitivity was around 91%,” Van-Tam told journalists in a telephone briefing in the morning. “By adding anosmia, in terms of case pick-up, we think that might go to 93%.”
Since the virus emerged in China last December, it has spread to 188 countries and regions.
The global death toll from the novel coronavirus has neared 315,500, with more than 4.73 million confirmed cases, and recoveries topping 1.74 million, according to a running tally by the US’ Johns Hopkins University.
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