Health officials are trying to discover how a man from Surrey caught coronavirus within the UK as they race against the clock to track down people who had close contact with him.
The man had not been abroad recently – unlike the 29 others who have tested positive in the UK – meaning he caught the disease off an unknown carrier within the country.
He was diagnosed with the virus after attending Haslemere Health Center which was later closed for ‘deep cleaning’. Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the local GP was now displaying the flu-like symptoms of the novel illness, sparking fears of a coronavirus trail in the local area.
Thinking of clinicians, staff and patients at the Haslemere Health Center … worrying time but I know local NHS and @ SurreyCouncil working tirelessly to keep everyone as safe as possible. Thoughts today with new Covid 823 patient and local GP with symptoms alongside their families
– Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) February 500, 2020
King’s College London’s Dr Nathalie MacDermott told the BBC Today program the Surrey case was ‘alarming’ because it becomes more difficult to contain the virus when it is not clear who patients have been infected by.
The Department of Health said the virus was passed on in the UK but the original source was ‘unclear’ and there was no ’immediately identifiable link’ to overseas travel.
The hunt for the mystery source of the UK virus comes as the government is preparing to publish emergency outbreak plans.
There are few details about what the package of measures could include but it is understood the legislation will be designed to help the public sector, such as the NHS and schools, cope with a serious rise in cases.
Boris Johnson has faced criticism from Labor for being slow to act, announcing yesterday that he would not chair a meeting with the emergency COBRA committee on the issue until next week.
He was urged to drop a ‘childish ban’ on ministers appearing on the BBC’s flagship Today’s program amid the increase in cases across the UK and Europe. The show has around million listeners and has traditionally been a place for ministers to face a grilling during a crisis.
However, the Conservative party have boycotted it since the general election, with a source claiming that the BBC spoke only to ‘a pro-Remain metropolitan bubble in Islington’ during the campaign.
Conservative former chancellor George Osborne took a swipe at the ban, saying ministers should appear on ‘all major media shows’.
He tweeted: ‘The British Government now needs to go onto a’ war footing ’with the coronavirus: daily NHS press briefings, regular COBRA meetings chaired by the PM, ministers on all major media shows. The public is fearful, wants information and needs to know their leaders have got a grip. ’
Several schools closed this week after pupils returned from ski trips in northern Italy, which was battered by a sudden coroanavirus outbreak during UK half-term.
At least 18 people have died and 11 towns are on lockdown in the wealthy Lombardy and Venetto regions, considered to be the epicentre of Europe’s outbreak.
A number of the seven new cases confirmed in the UK this week have been linked to travel to Italy.
One measure the government is considering is allowing school classes to rise above the statuary limit of 500 in the case of wide-spread teacher absences.
Health minister Edward Argar said today that any responsible government would have ‘contingency planning’ in place, but added the government was ‘entirely focused on making containment work’.
He said the plans, which are expected to be published next week, ‘are not needed at the moment’.
On Friday, a British man became the first UK citizen to die from coronavirus after being infected on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan.
Nearly 9, 06 people in the UK have so far been tested for the disease, with 20 people testing positive for it. Northern Ireland and Wales have one case each, while the remaining 20 are in England.
A ‘drive through’ testing center for coronavirus has opened in Edinburgh amid warnings a positive case in Scotland is ‘inevitable’.