The story of a traveling British businessman who appears to have passed the coronavirus to Britons in at least three countries has prompted concerns over "super spreaders," who could play an outsize role in transmitting the infection.
A British national, who has not been named, may have unwittingly spread the virus to at least 11 people in the course of his travels from Singapore to France to Switzerland to England, according to public health authorities and accounts in the British media. Infected Britons in England, France and Spain likely caught the virus from him.
The businessman, one of the first British nationals to test positive for the virus, works for the gas analysis company Servomex, according to the Guardian. He traveled to Singapore for work on January 20 and departed January 22, the paper reported. He is thought to have contracted the virus while he was there.
China reported 908 deaths and about 40,000 cases of the coronavirus, as the epidemic continues to worsen. Eight cases have been confirmed in Britain.
The coronavirus can spread quickly between humans, usually through close person-to-person contact and respiratory droplets. Authorities in the U.K. and beyond are scrambling to trace the businessman's tracks from the time when he caught the virus to when he tested positive back in Britain several days later. From Singapore, he reportedly stopped at a French ski resort, boarded a flight, dropped by a pub in his hometown and may have went to a medical clinic. Authorities are reaching out to those who may have come into close contact with him.
Researchers say that the incubation period for the virus can last anywhere from around 3 to 24 days.
From Singapore, the businessman visited a chalet in Les Contamines-Montjoie, a ski resort in the French Alps. According to the French health ministry, five British citizens, including a 9-year-old, also stayed at the same chalet and tested positive for the virus. The Guardian reported that French authorities shut two schools the 9-year-old visited. Six other British nationals have been hospitalised for observation.
On Sunday, French health officials announced two new cases linked to the ski resort. "We learned that there were two other cases linked to this cluster, two adults - one who was diagnosed in the United Kingdom and the other who was diagnosed in Mallorca - linked to a stay in the apartment in Les Contamines-Montjoie," Jerome Salomon, a senior health official, said in a televised statement, Reuters reported.
On Monday, British officials announced that four more people in Britain tested positive for coronavirus. Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said that the "new cases are all known contacts of a previously confirmed U.K. case, and the virus was passed on in France."
After spending time at the chalet in the Alps, the businessman traveled to Geneva, where he caught a flight to London's Gatwick airport on January 28th. Nearly 200 people were on board the plane.
EasyJet, a discount airline, said that 183 passengers and six crew members were on the flight, and that health authorities had contacted the passengers who were seated near the man in question.
"[A]lthough the risk to others on board the flight is very low, crew who operated the flight have been advised to monitor their health for a 14 day period since the flight in line with Public Health England advice," the airline said in a statement. "The original flight was 13 days ago and none are displaying any symptoms."
The businessman is reportedly from Hove, a town that neighbours Brighton. Together the two places are known as "Brighton and Hove."
The BBC reported that a doctor's clinic in Brighton had been temporarily closed after one of its staff members tested positive for the virus.
As of Monday afternoon, authorities in Britain had carried out a total of 1,114 tests for the virus. Eight had come back positive.
Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that it was "reassuring from a control point of view that these cases are linked." In the U.K. at the moment, he said, "we are not seeing five, 10 cases appearing that we've got no idea where they have come from."
On average, he said, those who are infected might pass it along to two people. Because coronavirus is spread via droplets that do not travel far, it would not be unusual for someone infected traveling by plane not to pass it to many - or any - other passengers.