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Coronavirus: Four more patients test positive after links with businessman

Employees wearing protective face masks at a jewellery shop in Hong Kong, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. China is reporting a rise in new virus cases, denting optimism that disease control measures which isolated major cities might be working. Photo: AP Photo/Vincent Yu

By Jane Kirby and David Hughes, PA

Four more patients in England have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to eight.

The four people infected are all understood to be contacts of a businessman who was diagnosed in Brighton last week and who contracted the virus at a conference in Singapore.

On his way back to the UK he visited a chalet in a ski region of France, where five other Britons were subsequently taken ill with the virus.

The Department of Health said the four people newly-diagnosed contracted the virus in France and are being treated at specialist infection centres at St Thomas' and the Royal Free hospitals in London.

The British man who caught coronavirus in Singapore is being treated at the specialist infectious diseases unit at St Thomas'.

The five British nationals being treated in France were diagnosed after they came into contact with the businessman, according to the French health ministry.

The four adults and a nine-year-old child, who are not in a serious condition, were staying in the Alpine resort area of Contamines-Montjoie near Mont Blanc.

EasyJet confirmed that the businessman flew from Geneva back to the UK on January 28, and health officials are trying to trace other passengers who might be at risk.

A spokeswoman said: "Public Health England is contacting all passengers who were seated in the vicinity of the customer on flight EZS8481 from Geneva to London Gatwick on 28 January, to provide guidance in line with procedures."

The businessman is also linked to a British man in Majorca who tested positive for coronavirus, while his wife and two daughters tested negative.

A fourth UK case, diagnosed on Sunday, who is being treated at the Royal Free Hospital in London, is also "a known contact of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France", England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty said on Sunday.

Once back in the UK, the Brighton businessman visited The Grenadier pub in Hove, which said it has been told by Public Health England there is "minimal ongoing risk of infection to either guests or staff, so please be reassured that the pub remains open for business as usual".

The developments come as the Government declared coronavirus a "serious and imminent threat to public health".

Announcing new legal powers on Monday, the Department of Health said people with coronavirus can now be forcibly quarantined and will not be free to leave, and can be forcibly sent into isolation if they pose a threat to public health.

The PA news agency understands that the decision was in response to one of the Britons who returned from Wuhan in China - the source of the coronavirus outbreak - attempting to leave isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital on Merseyside.

A Government source said "there was someone who was threatening to abscond from Arrowe Park", despite all the Britons who returned on the evacuation flight signing a contract agreeing to a 14-day quarantine period, which ends this Thursday.

However, there have been concerns about whether those contracts are legally enforceable, leading to the new regulations.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "Our infection control procedures are world leading and the NHS is well prepared to deal with novel coronavirus.

"We are strengthening our regulations so we can keep individuals in supported isolation for their own safety and if public health professionals consider they may be at risk of spreading the virus to other members of the public.

"This measure will rightly make it easier for health professionals to help keep people safe across the country."

Information on the Department of Health website says Health Secretary Matt Hancock has introduced the new powers in light of the "public health emergency" from coronavirus, originating in Wuhan in China.

A statement says: "In accordance with Regulation 3, the Secretary of State declares that the incidence or transmission of novel coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health, and the measures outlined in these regulations are considered as an effective means of delaying or preventing further transmission of the virus."

Arrowe Park Hospital and Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes, both of which are housing Britons who have returned from Wuhan, are now designated "isolation facilities", according to the Government.

Meanwhile, another plane carrying people evacuated from Wuhan landed at RAF Brize Norton on Sunday morning, with people then taken to Kents Hill Park for 14 days of quarantine.

Elsewhere, there are now 130 confirmed cases of coronavirus on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in the port of Yokohama, Japan's health minister said.

British honeymooner Alan Steele, who was transferred from the cruise liner to hospital in Japan with coronavirus, was said to be feeling well and in good spirits over the weekend.

In the UK, a University of York student and their relative are still being treated at the Royal Victoria Infirmary infectious diseases centre in Newcastle.

There have been more than 40,000 cases of the virus globally, mostly in China, while the death toll in China now stands at 908.