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expert reaction to CMO confirming fourth case of the novel coronavirus in the UK

England Chief Medical Officer, Prof Chris Whitty, has confirmed the fourth case of the novel coronavirus in the UK.


Dr Nathalie MacDermott, NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer, King’s College London (KCL), said:

“It is reassuring that the individual who constitutes the 4th case of coronavirus in the UK has been identified promptly. It was apparent from reports yesterday that they were being sought due to exposure to the UK’s 3rd coronavirus case at a ski resort in France. The prompt identification of these cases is testament to the excellent contact tracing and information sharing that is occurring between UK public health officials and their counterparts in Europe.

“What is concerning is the source of these infections, which appears to have been a conference in Singapore attended by some participants from China. So far, this conference has seeded infections in 2 South Korean citizens, one Malaysian citizen and one British citizen. The conference was attended by 94 individuals from outside of Singapore. That these four individuals were so apparently easily infected and their infections have initiated on going chains of transmission in either their home country or other countries they have visited raises the concern that some of the 90 other conference attendees may also have been infected and may go on to initiate chains of infection in their home countries. It is in part this that causes me to share the concerns of Prof Piot of the potential for this epidemic to develop into a pandemic, particularly if international lines of communication about cases of infection and mechanism of transmission are not maintained.”


Prof Richard Tedder, Visiting Professor in Medical Virology, Imperial College London, said:

“The recognition of the fourth case in the UK is a testament to the excellent way the response to this virus is co-ordinated within the NHS. However, as this fourth case was linked to a known case, and it is currently uncertain if that known case had any symptoms when he infected those who have now also been found to have been infected, it is also a warning echoing the comments made by Peter Piot today in the Sunday Times that there is a potential risk of a pandemic.

“Years ago, when we were facing the emergence of HIV the concept of the “global village” was forcefully brought home to me with a realisation in the early 1980s that an infection, with at the most only mild symptoms at that time, was spreading globally. That long past experience shares an uncomfortable similarity with the position now with the new coronavirus in one respect. Unlike the SARS outbreak of 18 years ago, it may be that this new coronavirus could infect very many more people than those who present with symptoms and mapping the penetration of this virus into countries will not be achieved with current diagnostic assays. These only detect the currently infected person tested because they have an illness. The concern is the potential for the silent transmissions to go unrecognised until they are brought into the open by people developing illness from onward transmission. Looking back to the emergence of the HIV pandemic, testing persons for evidence of infection was absolutely instrumental in showing the spread of that virus, I believe we need to learn from that and apply diagnostic testing for coronavirus infection using the ability to test for antibody, thereby having a direct measure of where this virus is going. Without that we are truly flying blind if it is the case that the coronavirus can be transmitted by those without symptoms.”


Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, University of East Anglia (UEA), said:

“From the today’s reports, this new case would appear to be linked to the cluster of cases in the French ski resort which is also linked to the case in Brighton. As such this case is part of the same cluster which is being reported as linked to a British national returning from Singapore. Whilst we currently do not know many details about how this new case was linked to others in the cluster, his/her identification does not at this stage indicate wider spread within the UK community. If the new individual had been already identified through contact tracing and the person was self-isolating then this should not pose any addition risk.

“Further cases within an already identified cluster are not surprising and do not pose an additional risk to public health providing such contacts are complying with instructions from Public Health England.”


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