From Singapore to UK via the French Alps: How one man spread the coronavirus round the world

The British man caught the virus while attending a conference in Singapore, held in the Grand Hyatt hotel. The hotel has since conducted a thorough sanitisation of potentially impacted rooms. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

PARIS (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - A British man managed to pass on the coronavirus to at least 11 other people without ever setting foot in the epicentre of the outbreak in China, in an infectious journey that shows how the deadly virus can spread rapidly around a globalised world.

The adult British citizen, who has not been named publicly, caught the virus while attending a conference in Singapore and then passed it on to several compatriots while on holiday in the French Alps, before finally being diagnosed back in Britain.

Of those infected by the man, five have been hospitalised in France, five in Britain and one other man on the Spanish island of Mallorca.

How did he pass on the new coronavirus so rapidly in so many different places?


The man attended a business conference in Singapore from Jan 20 to 22. More than 100 people took part in the conference, including at least one Chinese national from Hubei province, the epicentre of the epidemic that has now left more than 900 dead.


He then travelled on to France to spend some days from Jan 24 to 28 at the ski resort of Contamines-Montjoie in the Alps with a group of other British citizens staying in two apartments in the same chalet.


Stricken with fever after his return to the south of England, the man then went to a medical centre in the south-eastern town of Brighton where he was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Last Thursday (Feb 6), he was transferred to the infectious diseases unit at the hospital of St Thomas in London.

Five other people who had contact with him at the French ski chalet were then confirmed by the British health authorities to be infected.

Britain on Monday confirmed four more cases, all of whom were known contacts of the man and infected in France, Sky news reported.

Some staff from The Grenadier pub, which the man went to just before he was hospitalised, have also been placed in isolation. But the pub has stayed open.

A medical centre in Brighton said on Monday that it had temporarily closed for "an urgent operational health and safety reason".

The BBC and Sky News said one of the centre's staff members had tested positive for the virus, although this was not officially confirmed.


Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said last Saturday that five British nationals, including a child, who stayed at the chalet with the man had tested positive.

Six other Britons staying in the same chalet were also hospitalised for observation.

"They show no serious signs" of those infected having any threat to their lives, added Ms Buzyn.

Business owners in the Contamines-Montjoie resort have been keen to avoid any exaggerations of the threat as French families prepare to descend on the area for the half-term ski holidays.

Three schools attended by one of the British infected - the child aged nine - are closed and 100 people have been tested. All the results have been negative so far.

Similar efforts have been made to track down passengers who took a flight from Geneva - the closest large airport to Contamines-Montjoie - with the man when he went back to Britain on Jan 28.


One member of the group he stayed with in France then sought medical help after returning to his home in Mallorca. The contamination took place between Jan 25 and Jan 29, according to the Spanish authorities.

The man in Mallorca is "currently in good health. He shows practically no symptom", said Mr Fernando Simon, an official from Spain's health ministry.

The rest of the man's family have tested negative for the virus.

The Mallorca man's wife and two daughters aged 10 and seven, who were also hospitalised for tests, have shown no sign of infection, but will continue to be monitored.


Experts said that the speed of the transmission showed the potential for the coronavirus to become a global pandemic.

"The recent report of transmission to British nationals in France are a worrying but perhaps not unexpected development," said Dr Paul Hunter, professor in Medicine, University of East Anglia.

"This reinforces the fact that transmission is no longer restricted to China. It is still too early to know when and if the epidemic will become pandemic and whether we will start to see sustained person-to-person transmission in Europe."

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