UK adds loss of taste and smell to list of Covid-19 symptoms

Coronavirus testing in Britain has been extended to anyone showing symptoms over the age of five.

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The government’s announcement comes as the loss of taste and smell are now being added to the NHS official list of symptoms for Covid-19.

Until now, people have been told to isolate if they have a new continuous cough or fever, but the UK’s four chief medical officers now say the possible signs of the disease are much broader. The changes come two months after concerns were raised by doctors that cases were being missed because these symptoms were being dismissed.

At the Downing Street daily briefing, deputy chief medical officer and professor Jonathan Van Tam said the addition would mean identifying up to two per cent more cases of the virus in the community.

"The important thing is to work out if this would add any sensitivity to the diagnostic cluster we were using and the answer is it makes a small, very small difference and we’ve therefore decided to do it," Dr Van Tam said.

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But speaking to the BBC, professor Ben Cowling, head of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, questioned why Britain remained by other world countries who altered their list of symptoms beyond a cough and fever. 

"For months now we’ve known that this is a potential symptom of coronavirus. It’s an unusual symptom for respiratory infections but it has been reported in China, in Italy, in Iran and other parts of the world early on in the outbreak, so I don’t know why it took so long to be added to the list in the UK," Dr Cowling said. 

Medically known as anosmia, the advice now says people should isolate if they have a new continuous cough, or fever, or anosmia.

According to government data, more than 2.6 million tests have been carried out as the country’s death toll climbs to more than 34,700.

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