France is closing two schools and trying to reassure vacationers in the Alps after five British citizens, including a 9-year-old child, contracted the new virus from China at a French ski resort.
Saturday's announcement of the five new cases in France at the height of the ski season is the latest example of how the tentacles of the virus can easily spread across multiple borders.
The five British citizens were staying in a chalet in the Alpine ski resort of Contamines-Montjoie near Mont Blanc, and were in close contact with another Briton who apparently contracted the virus in Singapore, traveled to the French Alps and then tested positive for the virus upon return to Britain, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told reporters Saturday.
That brings the total number of virus cases in France to 11. Britain has three confirmed cases. The new type of coronavirus has infected more than 34,800 people globally and killed more than 700, nearly all of them in China, since the first illnesses were detected in December.
The five British citizens with new cases of the virus are being held in Lyon-area hospitals, along with six other Britons who were in close contact with them and are now being monitored, the French health ministry said.
The chalet where they were staying housed a British family that lives in Contamines and another family of British vacationers. The sickened child lives in Contamines and attends a local school, and took French classes at another local school, regional officials told a news conference Saturday.
Both schools will be closed, and the pupils will be monitored for signs of the virus.
Local officials sought to reassure tourists descending this weekend on one of the world's most prized ski areas that all preventive measures are being taken to stem further spread of the virus.
“This cluster of cases in France illustrates how the coronavirus can spread to countries indirectly of China. The French ski resort will have citizens from numerous other countries there, so there are implications for potential onward transmission," said Dr. Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton.
After a special virus meeting Saturday, the French government decided to harden its travel warning for China, cautioning against all travel there unless in case of “imperative” need.
The patient in Britain apparently contracted the virus after staying at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Singapore and attending a business conference there Jan. 20-22. There were 94 foreigners in the hotel at the time, including people from Hubei, according to the French minister.
The British citizen then spent Jan. 24-28 in the French Alps, and tested positive for the virus after returning home this week.
Singapore, a major southeast Asia transport hub, confirmed seven new local cases Saturday, including two more citizens who attended the gas industry conference at the Grand Hyatt. Singapore authorities urged calm amid a wave of panic.
Separately, a British flight carrying some 150 Britons as well as French citizens from Wuhan is to arrive in the U.K. on Sunday.
In Germany, the latest case of the virus is the wife of a man previously infected who works for an auto parts supplier near Munich that has accounted for most of the 14 German cases confirmed so far.
In Italy, health authorities are now recommending students returning from China stay home for 14 days to make sure they don’t have the virus. The health ministry says the measure covers all nationalities, not just Chinese students. Italy has three confirmed cases of the new coronavirus.
Kirka reported from London. Geir Moulson in Berlin and Nicole Winfield in Rome.