13 February 2020 01:39
Britain must now prepare itself for more cases of the coronavirus, health officials have warned, as they confirmed a first victim diagnosed in London on a day when the spread of the disease continued to cause disruption across the world. The new patient, who brings the total number in the UK to nine, is a Chinese woman in her late 20s or early 30s who lives in the British capital with relatives. She was tested at a London hospital on Sunday afternoon, returned to her London home and kept herself in isolation there. Officials have been ordered to trace relatives, friends and anyone she may have been in contact with since returning to London in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. As schools in Brighton, where two GP surgeries have already closed because of the outbreak, instructed pupils to self-isolate, there were warnings that the public should be prepared for the coronavirus – now named Covid-19 – to spread further.
Dr Paul Cosford of Public Health England said that more cases were now highly likely and that a growing number of people travelling into British airports could be infected. As PHE sought to ascertain the significance of the new case, a growing number of public events around the world were being cancelled in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, which can lead to pneumonia and has so far killed more than 1,100 people in China alone. • An additional 39 people on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive, plus one local official who contracted the virus while on board. Other experts said it was too soon to tell whether the new case implied that the virus would spread in the capital, a key transport hub with a population of nine million. "It is really not surprising that a case has been reported from London," said Jon Cohen, emeritus professor of infectious diseases at Brighton & Sussex Medical School.
"We will not really be able to estimate the potential risk of onward spread until further information on this patient is known, including details of how long they were in the UK until they were diagnosed and what their movements were." Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said evidence for the role played by public transport like the London Underground in the spread of a virus was "fairly limited", adding that long-distance trains and international travel were likely to be more important factors. Dr Robin Thompson, junior research fellow in mathematical epidemiology at Oxford University, said there were some risks associated with a diagnosis in London, but noted that if the patient had quickly self-isolated, then the danger could be mitigated. "In general, if an initial case is in a densely populated area, then the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission following is higher," he said. "This is exacerbated by the fact that London is a transport hub, and the underground could provide a network to spread the virus quickly. In Brighton, the businessman who unknowingly contracted the virus and is suspected of being at the centre of a cluster of cases said he is "happy to be home" after being discharged from hospital. Steve Walsh was discharged from hospital on Wednesday and is no longer contagious, NHS England said. "I want to give a big thank you to the NHS who have been great throughout and my thoughts are with everyone around the world who continues to be affected by the virus," the 53-year-old scout leader said, adding that he was feeling well. At least nine schools in Brighton, Hove and Eastbourne in East Sussex informed families that some of their pupils or staff had been told to self-isolate after concerns were raised that Walsh, who tested positive for coronavirus, may have passed it on to others. Walsh, who contracted the disease on a business trip in Singapore before going on a ski trip, where he is thought to have infected others, was being held in an isolation unit at St Thomas' hospital in London. He was in the Alps with two GPs who have since tested positive for coronavirus in Brighton. It was confirmed on Wednesday that 12 patients and medical staff who came into contact with doctors diagnosed with the coronavirus in Sussex had been traced. The two GPs worked between Worthing hospital's A&E department, a nursing home and two doctor's surgeries in Brighton, Public Health England said. Meanwhile, in Oxfordshire, tests on two prisoners at HMP Bullingdon provided negative results for coronavirus. A case of the coronavirus in South London was confirmed on Wednesday evening (February 12), bringing the total number of cases in the UK up to nine. The as yet unnamed patient was initially taken to a South London hospital on Wednesday. Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Witty said the patient was now being treated at a specialist NHS centre at Guy's and St Thomas' in London. Witty said this latest case of the potentially deadly virus was contracted in China, where the disease is thought to have originated. "One further patient in England has tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total number of cases in the UK to nine. "This virus was passed on in China and the patient has now been transferred to a specialist NHS centre at Guy's and St Thomas' in London," he said. The latest case of the virus was announced after a two-week quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside of 83 UK nationals flown back to Britain from Wuhan was set to end on Thursday morning. One of the patients, Kharn Lambert, confirmed the group were being released tomorrow and told the PA news agency: "I'm ecstatic and I'm so happy that everyone has come back with negative test results." Meanwhile, Steve Walsh, the businessman at the centre of the UK outbreak of coronavirus, has said he is "happy to be home" after being given the all-clear and then discharged from hospital. Wednesday's ninth diagnosis of the virus in the UK came hours after Dr Paul Cosford, from Public Health England, told the BBC more cases of coronavirus in the UK are "highly likely". He said there are a number of "countries of concern" and that people returning from travelling abroad could bring in further cases. Of the nine people so far diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK, two are GPs. Professor Neil Ferguson, from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College, London, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme the world was "in the early phases of a global pandemic at the moment" and the true number of UK cases is higher than the existing count. He said it was "highly unlikely" the UK could stop transmission of coronavirus and it was likely to "get going" in the UK in the next few weeks, peaking a few months later.