An international manhunt is under way to trace more than 100 people who were at a business conference in Singapore where the British national who infected five others at a French ski resort is believed to have contracted the coronavirus.
French officials said the British national – reported to be a middle-aged man from Brighton – arrived in the resort of Contamines-Montjoie, near Mont Blanc, on 24 January and returned to England on 28 January.
The conference at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Singapore, held earlier in January, is believed to have been attended by 15 people from Singapore and 94 foreigners, and hosted by a multinational company. The Singaporean evening daily paper Lianhe Wanbao named the company as UK firm Servomex, a global gas analysis company with offices in Europe and Asia.
Malaysian health authorities first revealed the virus’s link to the conference when they confirmed the case of a 41-year-old Malaysian who had attended it alongside colleagues from China, according to the New Straits Times.
South Korea has confirmed that two of its nationals who attended the conference also have the virus. The Koreans and the Malaysian shared a buffet meal during the conference, South Korean media reported. Of the 15 Singaporean attendees, four have been referred to its National Centre for Infectious Diseases, the country’s health ministry confirmed.
The World Health Organization is investigating the outbreak. “WHO is coordinating with relevant ministries of health in relation to it,” a WHO spokeswoman said. “As countries are stepping up surveillance, the detection of more cases of local transmission can be expected.”
The BBC reported that, upon his return to the UK, the infected British businessman isolated himself at his home and called NHS 111. After a positive test, he was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital in London where he is being treated.
Prof Keith Willett, NHS strategic incident director, told the Brighton Argus: “This patient did the right thing when they had concerns about coronavirus by calling NHS 111 for advice. After a telephone assessment, they were advised to make their way to Royal Sussex County hospital Brighton for testing. Following a pre-arranged plan with the NHS, they drove themselves to the hospital, were tested in isolation and away from public areas of the hospital, and returned home in isolation in their own car.”
Public Health England advised a student at Portslade Aldridge community academy in Brighton to self-isolate for 14 days. The school said it had been advised by health authorities that there was no need to close.
The Brighton man told UK authorities he had visited a chalet in Contamines-Montjoie, prompting French officials to take the 11 Britons who had been staying there to hospitals in Lyon, Saint-Étienne and Grenoble on Friday night.
French authorities said the chalet had two apartments where two families had been staying. A British couple and their three children, who have reportedly lived in Contamines-Montjoie for three years and are now resident in France, live in one. The mother is in the UK, studying for exams, and has been contacted.
The three British children under examination in hospital in France – including a nine-year-old who has tested positive for the virus along with his father – attended a school in the resort, its mayor, Etienne Jacquet, told BFM TV. He said the two schools would be shut this week as the authorities investigated who they had been in contact with.
Seven tourists were staying in the other apartment. All the Britons staying in the apartments were taken to hospital. Agnes Buzyn, France’s health minister, said none was in a serious condition.
Neighbours said they learned of the outbreak on the news. “We saw a helicopter and the gendarmes, and we thought someone had been taken ill. but nobody told us anything,” said one of them.
The mayor of nearby resort Saint-Gervais, Jean-Marc Peillex, played down the risk to children at the local school, which has 200 pupils. He said the nine-year old boy had spent “half a day there with five pupils”.
Édouard Philippe, the French prime minister, called a meeting of health ministers yesterday and the ministry has opened a UK hotline (0800 100 379) in an attempt to find out who else may have been in contact with the Britons.
“We’re starting an important operation to identify cases of those in contact,” said Buzyn.
Local newspaper Le Dauphiné reported that Marie-Charlotte Pasquier of the Contamines-Montjoie tourist office had spent the morning reassuring tourists in the resort. There has been no public announcement but the town hall has been distributing leaflets with advice on how to avoid transmitting coronavirus. Local doctors have sent a consignment of disinfectant and face masks to the town hall.
The total number of people infected with the virus in France has now reached 11.