Five Britons have tested positive for coronavirus in France after coming into direct contact with a British national who had recently returned from Singapore, the latest in a string of UK citizens suspected of carrying the deadly illness
Four adults and a child were diagnosed while staying at an Alpine resort in Contamines-Montjoie, near Mont Blanc. The Independent understands they contracted the virus from the third person in the UK who was confirmed to have caught the pneumonia-like illness. The man, who tested positive for the virus in Brighton, is believed to have returned to England on 28 January before eventually being quarantined more than a week later.
Professor Rowland Kao of the University of Edinburgh said: “These cases originating from contacts in Singapore change the game as far as contact tracing is concerned.
“As we know there will be a substantial window of risk around when the cases occurred, as well as the additional risks associated with the British cases, as the French ski resort where they were staying is likely to result in a wide range of international contacts themselves.
“We are likely reaching the point where the tendrils of transmission risks reaching out from China are becoming a web, one that would require considerably greater resources to control.”
Elsewhere in Brighton the parents of a pupil have been told to “self-isolate” their child, who reportedly came into contact with a man found to be suffering with the virus on Thursday. Parents whose children attend Portslade Academy were emailed yesterday to inform them of the development by head teacher Mark Poston, Brighton and Hove News reported.
“We are working in collaboration with and being guided by the local authority and Public Health England to ensure that we at PACA are acting consistently with the right medical advice,” Mr Poston wrote.
Concern around the illness led one shopkeeper in the southern coastal city to ask customers to wear face masks and plastic gloves in her shop. Chinese shop owner Lai Chen Zhang, 30, put a sign outside Yung Feng Oriental Food Store on London Road explaining the new policy. Disposable gloves are available at the front of the shop.
“I want to protect my customers and make them feel comfortable,” she said.
Meanwhile in Yokohama, Japan, a British honeymooner was transferred from the Diamond Princess cruise liner to a hospital on land – one of 78 British passport-holders aboard.
And in Majorca a family of four British citizens is being tested after coming into contact with a sufferer in France.
A British chartered flight carrying more than 200 people including Britons as well as a number of French citizens is expected to arrive in the UK on Sunday, and they will be quarantined in Milton Keynes.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Our final flight from Wuhan took off at 3.20am local time with over 200 passengers on board, including our staff who have facilitated the flight and medics. Alongside British nationals, there are other nationalities on board.”
It comes as the death toll as a result of the virus continues to rise, with foreign nationals among those to have died in China – where all but two of the deaths associated with the virus have occurred.
On Saturday a 60-year-old US citizen became the first American to die after contracting the virus. The US national, who died at the epicentre of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, is believed to have been a woman with an underlying health issue, according to the New York Times.
The deceased is believed to be among the 722 deaths confirmed by the Chinese state within its borders, with 34,546 instances reported on the mainland alongside 25 in Hong Kong and 10 in Macao.
The latest global infection figure stands at more than 34,800.
Beijing has been keen to present the virus as having originated in an unregulated wildlife market within Wuhan – with scientists in China saying the illness may have spread through the illegal pangolin trade in the country.
China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that the genome sequence of the novel coronavirus strain separated from pangolins in the study was 99 per cent identical to that from infected people. It said the research had found endangered pangolins – the world’s only scaly mammals and one of the most-trafficked – to be “the most likely intermediate host”.
But James Wood, head of the veterinary medicine department at Britain’s University of Cambridge, said the research was far from robust. “The evidence for the potential involvement of pangolins in the outbreak has not been published, other than by a university press release. This is not scientific evidence,” he said.
“Simply reporting detection of viral RNA with sequence similarity of more than 99 per cent is not sufficient. Could these results have been caused by contamination from a highly infected environment?”
Additional reporting by agencies