U.K. Businessman Linked to Coronavirus Cluster Comes Forward

BRIGHTON, England — A British businessman believed to be the source of a cluster of coronavirus cases in Britain and France came forward on Tuesday, saying that he had fully recovered but would remain in isolation as a precaution.

The man, Steve Walsh, from Hove, a town neighboring the popular seaside area of Brighton in southern England, contracted the virus at a conference in Singapore last month, according to his representatives, before traveling on to a chalet in the French Alps where a number of other Britons also fell ill. Mr. Walsh had already been widely identified in the British media as the man who brought the virus to the chalet.

Mr. Walsh thanked doctors for their care in a statement released by a public relations firm representing him and his employer.

“Whilst I have fully recovered, my thoughts are with others who have contracted coronavirus,” said Mr. Walsh, one of at least eight people in Britain who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past month.

More than 44,000 people, mostly in China, have been sickened by the virus since it first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, and more than 1,100 have died. The virus has spread to at least 24 countries, triggering fears of a global pandemic.

In Britain, attention has been focused on a cluster of transmissions at a ski resort in the French Alpine town of Les Contamines-Montjoie, near Switzerland, late last month.

At least six people in Britain, including Mr. Walsh, and five Britons in France who have the virus have been linked to the chalet.

The British health authorities announced on Monday that they had confirmed four additional cases of the coronavirus in the country, all closely linked and tied to the French transmissions.

Credit…Via FTI Consulting

In his statement, Mr. Walsh said that he had contacted his doctor and local public health officials as soon as he knew he had been exposed to a confirmed coronavirus case.

“I was advised to attend an isolated room at hospital, despite showing no symptoms, and subsequently self-isolated at home as instructed,” he said. “When the diagnosis was confirmed I was sent to an isolation unit in hospital, where I remain, and, as a precaution, my family was also asked to isolate themselves.”

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

Mr. Walsh’s employer, Servomex, a gas analytics company, issued a statement noting that it was pleased that he had made a full recovery and that it would “continue to provide support to him and his family.”

The company said it was working with the public health authorities and said it was it was enforcing self-isolation for others who had attended the sales conference in Singapore where Mr. Walsh was believed to have contracted the virus.

The conference was held from Jan. 19 to 22 with about 90 company employees in attendance. The first Servomex employee tested positive for the coronavirus on Feb. 3 — that person also attended the conference — and guidance was issued to all staff members. This is what alerted Mr. Walsh to the situation, and he subsequently contacted his doctor.

Public health officials on Monday evening said two of the new cases announced earlier in the day were health care workers and said that they had been advised to isolate themselves.

“We are now working urgently to identify all patients and other health care workers who may have come into close contact, and at this stage we believe this to be a relatively small number,” Prof. Yvonne Doyle, the medical director of Public Health England, said in a statement.

While national public health officials did not specify the number of contacts the health workers had, a senior official at National Health Service group said at least 12 patients at the County Oak Medical Center in Brighton came into contact with them. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the news media.

The center was working with national health officials to trace the movements of the patients, she said.

The Bevendean Primary School in Brighton also said one of its staff members had been advised to go into self-isolation after coming into contact with someone who carried the virus. It said it would allow absences if parents wanted to keep their children at home.

Tracing those who might have been in contact with someone infected with the coronavirus is being coordinated by Public Health England, which is working with the Department of Health, the National Health Service and local councils to respond to the current cases.

That process involves health officials working with each patient to collect information on where they may have visited since the onset of symptoms or, in the case of travelers, since they arrived in Britain.

All of the contacts are then categorized into high or low risk. Those deemed to be at a higher risk have a daily health assessment and some may be asked to isolate themselves, health officials say.

Any of the contacts who report symptoms will be assessed and offered testing for the virus, the official said.

But in Brighton, where a number of confirmed cases are linked, many feared they were not being given enough information.

Samer Bagaeen, a member of Brighton and Hove City Council’s health board, criticized health officials and the local council for a lack of information. Mr. Bagaeen said advice from health officials that people “self-isolate” has caused confusion.

“We haven’t been given any information about the self-isolation process,” Mr. Bagaeen said. “Are these individuals still going into shops and buying groceries? And if not, who are they coming into contact with and how are they being protected?”

Brighton residents expressed similar frustrations, with many complaining that information was coming by word of mouth rather than through official channels.

“This is a small place, and it’s scary to think that anyone could have it, and anyone could get it,” said Adam Neil, a convenience store employee, who put up a “card only” sign on Monday to avoid handling people’s cash.

“No one has given us any information, so we have to take our own precautions,” he said.

Jack Henley, a local taxi driver said he would work half days until the risk of contracting the virus diminished.

“Our bosses won’t let us wear masks because they don’t want us to scare the customers away, but I’m scared of the customers, to be frank,” he said.

Matt Hancock, Britain’s health secretary, told Parliament on Wednesday that the coronavirus situation would “get worse before it gets better,” but noted that even as numbers of infections in Britain have risen in recent days, the threat to the public remained “moderate.”

On Sunday, 105 British citizens returned to the country on a flight after being evacuated from Wuhan, China. They are now in isolation facilities.

Mr. Hancock defended measures introduced on Monday to extend the government’s power to impose a quarantine on people believed to be at risk of spreading the virus. He warned that the response to the coronavirus would be long term.

“Dealing with this disease is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said.

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