A person attending a central London conference along with more than 200 others last week has subsequently been diagnosed with coronavirus, it has emerged, as authorities rush to trace those with whom they may have come into contact.
The unknown individual attended the UK Bus Summit at the QEII Centre, one of London’s largest conference halls, in Westminster on February 6.
Transport Times, the conference organisers, emailed attenders on Thursday afternoon on the instruction of Public Health England, informing them that a person confirmed to have the virus had been to the conference.
The email enclosed a letter from PHE, a government body. It told delegates to take no action if they were well but to stay indoors, avoid contact with others and call the NHS helpline if they developed symptoms such as a fever or cough.
“While the degree of contact you may have had with the case at the summit is unlikely to have been significant, we are taking a precautionary approach and informing you,” the letter said.
The bus conference listed about 250 delegates from the nationwide bus and transport industry, including several members of parliament and directors of national transport operators.
The catered event took place over one day and included demonstrations of electric buses and discussions on national bus policy. The QEII centre, which has a capacity of more than 2,500 people, hosted another conference, for asset managers, on the same day.
Citing patient confidentiality, authorities declined to give any further information on the person who had coronavirus, including their other movements in the UK or whether they had travelled from abroad.
But officials indicated that the individual is among the nine patients in England who have already tested positive for coronavirus.
They pointed to a commitment by Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, that any new cases in the UK would be publicly announced.
Public Health England is now trying to trace the contacts of each of those confirmed to have been infected by the virus, by collecting detailed information on a person’s movements before they were diagnosed.
Professor Whitty has previously said it is very unlikely that the virus can be passed on by someone who is not displaying symptoms, but authorities are monitoring the available information to determine whether this is a concern.
A spokesperson for Transport Times said it was “working closely with Public Health England, following their advice closely, and have distributed a letter of guidance from PHE to all attendees”.
On Monday the UK government declared the coronavirus outbreak “a serious and imminent threat to public health”. It has also gone further than many governments in taking new legal powers that mean the health secretary can force people to enter, or remain in, quarantine if they are thought to pose a risk of spreading the disease.
After the World Health Organisation designated the outbreak “a public health emergency of international concern”, the risk to the UK public was raised from “low” to “moderate”. The government says the risk to individuals remains low.