The Chief Medical Officer is considering designating taste and smell deprivation a symptom of coronavirus, following mounting pressure as the World Health Organization announced it is probing the link.
The measure was discussed on Tuesday at a meeting of the Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), it is understood, following a spate of reports that anosmia is a feature of Covid-19.
Currently, people in the UK are instructed to self-isolate only if they have a persistent cough, or a high temperature, or both.
This puts the government at odds with France, where people with loss of taste and smell are being advised to consider self-isolating even if they lack the main two symptoms.
On Monday the WHO revealed they are looking into the apparent symptoms and encouraging national health officials to investigate reports in their countries.
UK experts have said that, in the absence of widespread testing, smell and taste deprivation could be a vital means of identifying otherwise asymptomatic spreaders of the virus.
Last night a government source said: "The CMO and SAGE are looking at it and taking it seriously.
“It’s a quickly developing virus and they are looking at all the available evidence.
“If the science does back two features as being a symptom, they will make a decision on that.”
Anecdotal reports from northern Italy suggest as many as 50 per cent of doctors involved in fighting the virus have temporarily lost the faculties.
Meanwhile the American Academy of Otolaryngology has also called for anosmia to be added to a list of screening tools for Covid-19
In a study published in late February in the journal Nature, researchers in South Korea concluded that 30 per cent of roughly 2,000 patients who tested positive for coronavirus had at some point lost their sense of smell.
In Germany, clinicians at the University Hospital in Bonn surveyed 100 patients with coronavirus and found that up to two-thirds “described a loss of smell and taste lasting several days".
Maria Van Kerkhove, the head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, said on Monday: “A loss of smell or a loss of taste is something that we’re looking into.
“We are reaching out to a number of countries and looking at the cases that have already been reported to see if this is a common feature.
“We don’t have the answer to that yet.”
Earlier this week the football presenter Gary Lineker announced he was self-isolating because is 28-year-old son George had “complete loss of sense of taste and smell”.
Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular biology at the University of Nottingham, urged British health authorities to adopt a broader definition of Covid-19.
“Throughout the outbreak I have been incredibly bothered by the [UK’s] restricted case definition,” he said.
“When you look at the medical reports describing how cases are presenting, particularly mild infections, coronavirus patients clearly have cold-like symptoms.”