Singapore — The hunt is on for the individual in Singapore believed to have been responsible for the spread of the Wuhan novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, to five countries — Malaysia, South Korea, France, Britain and Spain.
It is highly likely that this person, referred to as Patient Zero, is unaware of having spread the infection.
Experts say that this person may likely have been present at the conference held by Servomex, a UK gas analytics company, at the Grand Hyatt Singapore from Jan 22 to 24.
One of the factors that aided the spread of COVID-19 to other countries came from the Servomex conference at the Grand Hyatt or somewhere nearby, according to a Reuters report on Thursday (Feb 13). And the person that spread the virus is now being traced by health authorities.
They say that tracking down Patient Zero will also give important information as to who else might have been exposed to the virus, and therefore help contain it, but after three weeks, identifying who this person is has become more difficult.
Reuters quotes Professor Dale Fisher, the chairman of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network coordinated by the World Health Organisation, as saying: “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.”
It was initially believed that Patient Zero was one of the Servomex delegates who had come from Wuhan, but the company has said that none of its delegates had tested positive for the virus.
Over one week after the conference ended, the first person who showed signs of infection was a man in Malaysia who had attended the conference.
Upon learning that he had fallen ill, Servomex adopted “extensive measures” for containing the virus, including self-isolation for all 109 participants of the conference. From that total, 94 patients had come from, and returned to, other countries.
After the Malaysian fell ill, two South Korean delegates tested positive as well. They had been at the same buffet meal as the Malaysian delegate. The Malaysian later infected his sister and mother-in-law. Three delegates were confirmed positive for COVID-19.
Furthermore, a British businessman, now identified as Mr Steve Walsh, who had also attended the Servonex conference, flew to France on a ski trip with a group of people, infecting at least 11 people, some of who were hospitalised in France. One man in the group, also infected, was only diagnosed as positive for COVID-19 when he went home to Spain.
However, the source of the virus is still unknown. The lion dancers who had performed at the conference are virus-free, as are many of the staff and guests of the hotel.
Professor Paul Tambyah, an infectious disease specialist and Chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party, said: “Everyone assumes it was a delegate but it could have been a cleaner, it could have been a waiter.”
He stressed the importance of finding Patient Zero in order to establish other likely “chains of transmission”.
However, the Ministry of Health’s Director of Medical Services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, has said: “We might never be able to tell who that first patient is.” /TISG