Five schools in one city issued coronavirus warnings to parents after a local scout leader was revealed to be the British ‘super-spreader’ of the disease.
Stephen Walsh, 53, broke his silence after discovering he was the source of an extraordinary web of cases stretching across the UK and Europe.
Speaking from an NHS isolation room, the sales executive yesterday revealed he had ‘fully recovered’ and insisted he acted as quickly as possible once he realised the threat he posed.
Stephen Walsh, 53, inadvertently brought coronovirus to the UK having attended a conference in Singapore. Health officials told people he had been in contact with to ‘self-isolate’
The County Oak Medical Centre in Brighton had to be cleaned thoroughly after a GP contracted the virus having been in contact with Mr Walsh
Staff at the Grenadier pub in Hove were also asked to self-isolate after being in contact with Mr Walsh
Steve Walsh, pictured, self-isolated himself after being warned he might have been at risk of the disease and then went into quarantine after he became symptomatic. He has since recovered from the virus
Two GP surgeries in his home city of Brighton and Hove have been closed and a nursing home was yesterday placed in lockdown as a precaution.
Meanwhile, several schools have been told to place themselves in quarantine. One of the largest secondary schools in Brighton yesterday told parents a ‘member of its community’ was in quarantine because of suspected coronavirus contact.
Varndean School, which has around 1,300 pupils, was one of the schools in the city to announce that somebody connected to it had been told to ‘self-isolate’ for 14 days by Public Heath England.
Parents at Cottesmore St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Hove told of their shock after learning two pupils – thought to be Mr Walsh’s children – were in quarantine.
Mr Walsh, a cub scout leader and father-of-two from Hove who children refer to as Shere Khan after the tiger from Jungle Book, contracted the virus after travelling to a business conference in Singapore in mid-January.
Risk of the ‘silent carrier’ patients
Three patients have tested positive for coronavirus after initially being given the all-clear – raising the prospect of ‘silent carriers’.
The cases – reported yesterday in the US and Japan – raise the prospect that people can be infected with the disease while believing they are healthy.
It also calls into question the accuracy of the test, which since the start of the outbreak has returned negative results for 1,350 patients in the UK.
However, scientists claim such occurrences are ‘common’ when patients have not yet entered the ‘diagnostic window’ – when infections are large enough to be detected.
Professor Richard Tedder, an expert in viruses from Imperial College London, explained that if individuals were tested very soon after they have become infected, there may not be enough of the virus in the body to show up on the analysis.
He stressed that ‘on the balance of probability’ these patients were unlikely to be infectious at that time.One case involved a Japanese man in his 50s who had fled the Chinese city of Wuhan on an evacuation flight on January 29. He was tested twice and both came back negative, but a third test on Monday – 12 days later – was positive. He has been isolated in his hotel room since his return from China. The second man, who is in his 40s, returned from Wuhan on January 30 and initially tested negative but was diagnosed with the virus on Monday. He is also understood to have been in isolation. Meanwhile, in San Diego in California, a woman who had been evacuated from Wuhan to a military quarantine centre tested positive after developing a cough.
She had previously been given the all clear and had been allowed to live alongside others who were also in isolation on the base.
Professor Tedder, a visiting professor in medical virology, said: ‘This is inevitable when you are sampling people shortly after they have become infected. This is common to all infections – a so-called diagnostic window.
‘I don’t think we should be unduly worried by these cases.’
But after almost two weeks of carrying the virus, authorities discovered he was linked to at least 11 cases in the UK, France and Spain. Yesterday, authorities were still tracking the contacts of Mr Walsh and his five associates – including two GPs – who have also tested positive in the Brighton area over the last few days.
One of the two infected GPs also worked at the A&E unit at Worthing Hospital in West Sussex, which was last night contacting patients and staff to tell them what precautions they should take.
The doctor, who has not been identified, treated a ‘small number’ of patients at the hospital on February 4 and 5 before they became unwell and ‘self-isolated’.
Boris Johnson last night said the UK should be ‘confident and calm’ over the threat of coronavirus. Speaking in Birmingham, the Prime Minister praised the response of the NHS and said anyone concerned should ‘simply follow their advice’.
During Mr Walsh’s 6,736-mile journey home from Singapore, he stopped in the French Alps for a four-day ski holiday, with several of his associates on the trip since testing positive. He contacted his GP, the NHS’s 111 helpline and Public Health England as soon as he realised he may have encountered the virus at the conference.
‘I was advised to attend an isolated room at hospital, despite showing no symptoms, and subsequently self-isolated at home as instructed,’ he said. ‘When the diagnosis was confirmed I was sent to an isolation unit in hospital, where I remain, and, as a precaution, my family was also asked to isolate themselves.’ The businessman has been treated at St Thomas’ Hospital in London since his case was confirmed last Thursday. He is an employee of Servomex, a British gas analytics firm that organised the conference in the Grand Hyatt hotel in Singapore where he and employees in other countries contracted the virus.
After returning home to the UK on January 28, Mr Walsh was told to work from home by his company over then-unfounded concerns about the virus’s circulation at the conference. But he is understood to have gone about his everyday life as normal until February 3 when the company found out that one of the conference’s 94 attendees had contracted the virus.
The cases related to Mr Walsh have prompted authorities to hunt for all those who may have come into contact with him and the other carriers.
÷ Nearly two-thirds of the global population could be infected with the virus if it is not properly controlled, an expert has warned. Professor Gabriel Leung, chairman of public health medicine at Hong Kong University based his claim on figures which show the average infected person transmits the virus to 2.5 other individuals.