Inside flu camp where people get infected with coronavirus on purpose

In the coming months a handful of volunteers will be the only people in the UK to choose to be infected with COVID-19.

The 24 coronavirus test subjects will spend 14 days in quarantine while doctors run multiple tests in London clinic in an effort to find a vaccine for the killer infection.

It comes as the world's governments rally to contain the deepening pandemic.

In the UK, where the Government launched its containment phase' against the outbreak on Thursday, 10 people have now died. There are also around 600 confirmed cases.

Gaining exclusive access to the The HVivo FluCamp in Whitechapel, before the trails begin, the Daily Mirror report those who volunteer in the fight to find a vaccine will find themselves "living in sterile clinic rooms" attended by "nurses in blue scrubs, face shields and ventilators".

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The unit can quarantine over 20 participants at any one time and is the only private unit in the UK.

Volunteers here will earn between £3,000-£4,000 and tens of thousands have already applied.

“This is a critical step to fast-track development of these anti-virals and vaccines,” explains Dr Andrew Catchpole, chief scientist at Hvivo.

“We’re trying to use our expertise in this area to see what we can do.”

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Volunteers will not be infected with Covid-19, but with “harmless” strains of the coronavirus – OC43 and 229E – which will cause a very mild respiratory illness.

The aim is to safely expose them to “close relatives” of the deadly strain, helping pharmaceutical firms test potential vaccines.

Dr Catchpole added: “If it can work on our virus, there’s no reason why it can’t work with Covid-19.”

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Cathal Friel, executive chairman of Hvivo’s owner Open Orphan, added: “The company is starting the process of developing the world’s first coronavirus challenge study model – basically, we take a harmless version of the virus that we can use and monitor.

“This is a British company which is the world centre for virology.”

Hvivo, which has been running clinical trials since 2001, has seen an unprecedented 10,000 apply for coronavirus tests at its site in Whitechapel, East London.

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But the odds of being suitable are 100-1. Only 18 to 55-year-olds are even considered and smokers are immediately ruled out.

Dr Catchpole said: “We want very healthy individuals so we can be sure that the disease that’s given is controlled.

“Then they come in and have a blood sample. We’re testing for pre-existing immunity. We’ve all been exposed to family members of the coronavirus, we’ve all got some levels of immunity.

“We need to screen people so we’re only giving the virus to those who would get sick. That can eliminate up to 80% of subjects.

For those who clear that hurdle, lung function and liver function tests follow.

“If you get through, participants would be invited back in for quarantine,” Dr Catchpole said

A month before quarantine begins, half of the group will be given a potential Covid-19 vaccine – currently in development by a third party. The other 50% will get a placebo.

One month later, all are infected with a “lesser” virus via a nasal spray before being confined to one of the 15ft by 17ft rooms – only half of which have windows – for 14 days.

Staff in blue scrubs, gloves and ventilators will come in several times a day to take nasal swabs and other routine tests.

The amount of mucus produced by participants is weighed daily.

Dr Catchpole explained: “When you have a cold you need to blow your nose, it’s an effective measure of the level of symptoms someone has.

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“So we provide them with pre-weighed tissues so we know the weight of the tissue at the start and they have a sealed bag which they put used tissues in.”

Meals will be delivered on a tray by staff wearing ventilators and other protective gear. Access to TV, games consoles, Wi-Fi, and a few home comforts help ease the boredom of two weeks solitary confinement.

Site manager Laura Krizman said: “They’re encouraged to bring laptops, books, students bring projects. Some brought teddy bears, cuddly things.”

All personal belongings are decontaminated at the end of the trial.

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Surprisingly given all that, ex-trialists have left rave reviews on Flucamp’s website.

One wrote: “It was a great experience. I had a TV a PlayStation, and WiFi was amazing – you can watch Netflix.

“Overall, I think it’s a very good way to get some extra money and relax for a little bit.”

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PM Boris Johnson said today anyone with coronavirus symptoms, however mild, such as a continuous cough or high temperature, must stay at home for seven days.

As part of the new measures, testing will only focus on identifying people with the virus in hospital.

People with symptoms are no longer required to call NHS 111, as the system is under strain, but are instead urged to look for information on the NHS website and 111 online.

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