The NHS has told hospitals they have two days to create “priority assessment pods” for those suspected of having coronavirus.
The NHS strategic incident director for coronavirus, Professor Keith Willett, said in a letter to hospitals that the plans needed to be put in place to avoid a “surge in emergency departments due to coronavirus”.
The letter was seen by Sky News.
Those suspected of having the virus will be kept isolated and apart from other patients at A&E services, so that an assessment can be made about their health.
Patients will be given instructions about how to speak to the NHS 111 service on an allocated phone; if necessary, their location details will be passed to the A&E service via their red phone, so that a collection can be arranged.
Rooms will then need to be decontaminated after every patient.
Hospitals are also being warned to expect an influx of patients because of the virus.
An NHS spokesperson said: “Anyone returning from Hubei province in the last 14 days should stay indoors, avoid contact with other people and call NHS 111 whether or not they are showing symptoms.
“Anyone with a cough, fever, or shortness of breath who attends hospital and has recently returned from China, will be advised to follow signs to NHS 111 pods and call for advice, so they stay isolated from other patients and avoid causing unnecessary pressure in A&E.”
The updated advice to hospitals comes as British researchers tell Sky News that they have made a “significant breakthrough” in the race to develop a vaccine for the disease.
Professor Robin Shattock, head of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial College London, said he is now at the stage to start testing the vaccine on animals as early as next week with human studies in the summer if enough funding is secured.
He told Sky News: “Conventional approaches usually take at least two to three years before you even get to the clinic. And we’ve gone from that sequence to generating a candidate in the laboratory in 14 days.
The vaccine will be too late for this current outbreak but it will be crucial if there is another one.
He said: “It’s not going to be too late if this becomes a pandemic and if it circulates around the world. We still don’t know much about the epidemic itself so it may wane over the summer months if it is like influenza.
“We may see a second wave come through on a global basis and if it comes a vaccine will be really important and would be in place to tackle that.”
Amid the outbreak in Asia, some British holidaymakers have been quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan, and told they cannot leave their cabins for any reason.
Around 3,700 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess are being kept at the port city of Yokohama, about 25 miles from Tokyo.
They are facing two weeks of quarantine after an 80-year-old passenger from Hong Kong tested positive for coronavirus after sailing on the ship last month.
David and Sally Abel, of Woodford Halse in Oxfordshire, are on the cruise to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.
Mr Abel, 74, told Sky News his main concern is his diabetes, as he needs more insulin which he would need to get from the ship’s medic.
But he added: “It’s going to be an ordeal, but it’ll be manageable. We are staying positive – to grumble about the situation wouldn’t be the right thing to do at all.
“The holiday was fantastic, and the crew are doing the right thing – they’re trying to keep everybody safe.
The UK government is chartering a final flight to bring British nationals back from coronavirus-hit Wuhan.
The plane is expected to leave in the early hours of Sunday morning local time and will land at RAF Brize Norton, the Foreign Office said – adding that they want to ensure that all British nationals in Hubei province contact their team to register if they want to leave on the flight.