Coronavirus spread: Global hunt for ‘patient zero’ after Singapore conference
British Scout Leader Steve Walsh, 53, is believed to have picked up the contagion in Singapore and unwittingly infected others in France, the UK and Majorca.
Authorities want to identify who he and others caught it from – most likely another delegate at the January sales conference organised by British gas analytics firm Servomex.
But Servomex said its Chinese delegates had not tested positive.
He told Reuters: “We do feel uncomfortable obviously when we diagnose a patient with the illness and we can’t work out where it came from.
“The containment activities are less effective.”
SPREADER IN THE ROOM
The performance was meant to bring good fortune, but attendees soon found themselves at the centre of a global crisis.
It was more than a week after the conference that the first case surfaced in a delegate who had returned home to Malaysia.
Servomex said it immediately adopted “extensive measures” to contain the virus and protect employees and the wider community.
Two South Koreans fell sick after sharing a buffet meal with the Malaysian, who also passed the infection to his sister and mother-in-law.
Three of the firm’s Singapore attendees also tested positive. Then cases started appearing in Europe.
Servomex’s entire leadership team and global sales staff were at the conference – including Mr Walsh, from Hove.
After leaving Singapore he had a brief skiing holiday in the French Alps with wife Catherine and pals.
Four of his friends — including Dr Catriona Greenwood and another GP — returned home to Britain on January 24 before testing positive at the weekend.
In Brighton, two GP surgeries were closed, and officials are scrambling to trace patients treated by an infected doctor at Worthing A&E.
Five more Brits who shared the ski chalet, including Dr Greenwood’s husband Bob Saynor and their nine-year-old son, were taken to hospital in France.
‘SCARY AND SOBERING’
Another expat also infected with the virus in France fell ill after returning home to Majorca, taking the total number of cases linked to Mr Walsh to 11.
A dozen schools in Sussex have pupils or staff who are self-isolating to stop the spread.
“It’s scary and sobering how quickly it seems to have spread.”
Mr Walsh was put in an isolation unit in London after he was diagnosed with the virus and is now out of hospital – but fears being a “national scapegoat”.
In Singapore, authorities are battling to keep track of new cases of local transmissions, many unconnected to previous cases.
Bosses at the Grand Hyatt said they had cleaned extensively and were monitoring staff and guests for infection but did not know “how, where or when” conference attendees were infected.
The troupe of lion dancers hired for the event said they were virus free.
“Everyone assumes it was a delegate but it could have been a cleaner, it could have been a waiter,” said Paul Tambyah, an infectious diseases expert at National University Singapore.
He added it was “very important” to find patient zero to establish other possible “chains of transmission”.
But time may be running out.
Today it emerged one of Britain’s nine patients was at a bus conference in London attended by MPs and transport chiefs.
Originally published as Global hunt for ‘patient zero’