GPs who suspect a patient has coronavirus must put them in isolation and avoid physically examining them, official guidance says.
A letter from Public Health England (PHE) to medics and nurses working in primary care says potential cases must be identified as soon as possible.
Doctors should then isolate the patient, call local health protection teams and prevent potential transmission of infection to other patients and staff.
The advice says coronavirus is currently most likely to affect travellers who have recently returned from Wuhan city in China – the origin of the outbreak.
The letter says: “An unwell patient with a relevant travel history should be identified when they book in at reception and placed in a room away from other patients and staff.
“If (coronavirus) is considered possible when a consultation is already in progress, withdraw from the room, close the door and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
“Avoid physical examination of a suspected case. The patient should remain in the room with the door closed. Belongings and waste should remain in the room.
“Advise others not to enter the room. If a clinical history still needs to be obtained or completed, do this by telephone.
“The patient should not be allowed to use communal toilet facilities. Instruct them to not touch anything or anyone when walking to the toilet. Instruct the patient to wash their hands thoroughly after toileting.”
If a patient calls a surgery with suspected symptoms, they should not be invited to the surgery.
Instead, a local infection specialist at hospital should be informed.
“If the patient is critically ill and requires an urgent ambulance transfer to a hospital, inform the ambulance call handler of the concerns about (coronavirus).
“Patients with suspected WN-CoV (coronavirus) should be instructed not to use public transport or taxis to get to hospital.
“Following the patient transfer, the room should be closed and should not be used until further advice is provided by the local health protection team.”