Five Britons test positive for deadly virus in France

February 09, 2020

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A man wearing a facemask walks past empty stalls at the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok on Saturday, as the number of tourists visiting the city has dropped considerably.—AFP
A man wearing a facemask walks past empty stalls at the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok on Saturday, as the number of tourists visiting the city has dropped considerably.—AFP

PARIS: Five British nationals including a child have tested positive for the new coronavirus in France, the health minister said on Saturday, adding that they had all stayed at the same ski chalet.

France has detected a total of 11 cases of the no­­v­el coronavirus. The new “clus­­ter” is centred on a Briton who had returned from Singapore and stayed in Contamines-Montjoie, near Mont Blanc, Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said.

“They show no serious signs” of a life-threatening infection, added Buzyn, herself a doctor.

The Briton at the centre of the new cases is now in Britain and was not counted among the French tally, she told a press conference.

In addition to the five Britons who have tested positive for the virus, six other Britons staying in the same chalet in late January have been hospitalised for observation, the minister said.

Authorities in France and Singapore are trying to contact people who came into contact with the initially infected Briton, she said.

He was on a business trip and had stayed at a hotel for an event with 94 other foreigners, according to senior health official Jerome Salo­mon who attended the press briefing along with Buzyn.

Other “clusters” have been identified in Malaysia and South Korea around people who attended the same event, he said.

The UK authorities said they were aware of the latest development and were “contacting people who were in close contact with any of the cases that have been confirmed in the UK, to provide them with health advice”.

“We are working closely with the French authorities,” Public Health England said in a statement.

French local authorities said two schools where the British child, aged nine, had gone, would be closed next week to allow his contacts to be traced and investigated.

Parents of about 250 children in one school and some 100 in the other would be informed and questioned about their health, officials said. “We start from the principle that children who do not exhibit symptoms are not infected but they will be under observation during the incubation period,” said Anne-Marie Durand, head of the regional public health authority.

William Keevil, professor of Environmental Health­care at the University of Southampton, noted how the latest case involving a child showed “that this virus is not limited to older, more vulnerable people and one infected person can cause a cluster of cases”.

Michael Head, senior res­earch fellow in global health at the university, added: “Sin­­­gapore is a major transport hub in southeast Asia; so going forward, we may find further international cases that have travelled through Singapore.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2020