Coronavirus panic in Surrey amid search for ‘superspreader’


Anxiety in an exclusive Surrey market town at the centre of Britain’s coronavirus crisis is heightening today as health officials still hunt for the mystery ‘super-spreader’ whose infection has been passed on to at least four people in the stockbroker belt.

Haslemere, an affluent commuter community of 10,000 people nestled in the Surrey Hills where George Eliot penned the classic novel Middlemarch, is at the epicentre of a major outbreak that has seen its GP surgery and pub closed and children sent home from the local school.

Today the nearby Hindhead Royal British Legion Club closed for deep cleaning after they found a customer who visited last Tuesday evening tested positive for coronavirus’.

There is also growing anger and upset among Haslemere residents about the lack of information from Public Health England about who is ill – with one concerned resident saying in an online blast: ‘Just name the person – and those who’ve been in contact can come forward. Easy!’. Another critic who fears her daughter could have been in contact with a coronavirus patient said: ‘I do believe they should clarify the person in question’.   

Angela Turner, 39, said: ‘If we know who it is then we can avoid their home. If we know their identity then it will stop all the speculation on social media. It can’t be pleasant for them but at least they are isolated from everyone’

And Stephen Howatt said: ‘The more information we have the better. My main concern is that whoever has the Coronavirus stays indoors – as long as they follow all the advice we’re okay.’

Sunday shoppers in the town’s upmarket Waitrose were seen wearing face masks and today a staff member told MailOnline that more than 30 people had called in asking to buy germ-killing hand sanitiser this morning. At the town’s nearby Lloyd’s Pharmacy they have sold out of hand gel and the empty shelf has been filled with packs of tissues.

Homemade posters have also appeared in the town declaring: ‘Haslemere, twinned with Wuhan’ with one resident admitting on the town’s community Facebook page: ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t – but if I don’t laugh i’ll cry’. 

In an ironic twist, Haslemere was chosen just two years ago as the setting for a BBC documentary titled ‘Contagion!’ looking at how a flu outbreak might spread across Britain.

Scientists monitored the movements of hundreds of ‘infected’ locals to work out how they might be able to stop a pandemic – and the war gaming exercise found it spread to 43 million people across the UK and led to the deaths of 900,000.  

It came as the number of UK coronavirus cases exploded from 13 on Friday to 40 today and senior doctors have warned the country will certainly see ‘more widespread transmission’ of the deadly illness including increasing numbers of ‘quite challenging cases’. 

Haslemere is at the centre of the latest coronavirus outbreak in Britain - but some have teased that the affluent town should be 'twinned with Wuhan'

Haslemere is at the centre of the latest coronavirus outbreak in Britain – but some have teased that the affluent town should be ‘twinned with Wuhan’

The mystery 'Patient X' has not been found but he or she has passed on coronavirus to Britain's 'Patient zero' - the first person to get the illness without travelling abroad - who passed it on to three relatives. The Hindhead RBL club was the latest local venue to close today

The mystery ‘Patient X’ has not been found but he or she has passed on coronavirus to Britain’s ‘Patient zero’ – the first person to get the illness without travelling abroad – who passed it on to three relatives. The Hindhead RBL club was the latest local venue to close today

Shoppers in the Haslemere Waitrose (pictured today) have been wearing face masks as four people linked to the town fell ill

Anti-bacterial hand wash and hand gel is sold out in Haslemere's Boots today and Lloyds Pharmacy on the same high street has packed empty shelves with tissues

Anti-bacterial hand wash and hand gel is sold out in Haslemere’s Boots today and Lloyds Pharmacy on the same high street has packed empty shelves with tissues

Haslemere Health Centre in Surrey (pictured) is at the centre of the town's coronavirus outbreak where four people have fallen ill but the source of the infection remains unknown

Haslemere Health Centre in Surrey (pictured) is at the centre of the town’s coronavirus outbreak where four people have fallen ill but the source of the infection remains unknown

What we know about the 16 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the UK since Friday

The Department of Health confirmed three more cases of the coronavirus in England on Saturday, February 29. 

What do we know about them? 

One of them was a member of staff at St Mary’s Primary School in Tetbury in Gloucestershire. They caught the deadly infection in Italy. 

Another was a women who worked at Willow Bank Infant School in Woodley, Berkshire. She also caught the virus in northern Italy.

It is believed the third case was a worker at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, Hertfordshire. They caught the infection in Asia.

—————————————————- 

Health chiefs then confirmed 13 more cases of the deadly infection on Sunday, March 1 – including the first case in Scotland.

What do we know about them?

Health chiefs said one case was in Essex, warning they had not travelled to any country battling an outbreak – suggesting it had spread in the UK.

Three of the patients were contacts of a man in Haslemere, Surrey, who caught the virus in Britain. One is from Surrey and two are from West Sussex and are part of an ‘adult family cluster’.

Of the other eight cases in England, six were infected in Italy and two were struck down in Iran. 

The DoH said the cases were scattered across London, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Hertfordshire and Gloucestershire.

The Gloucestershire case was one of the six who became infected in Italy, and are thought to have went on the same trip as the county’s first case.

The Greater Manchester case was thought to be a man in Bury, who also caught the virus in Italy and flew home from Milan. 

Two cases were in Leeds and one was in Bradford. The Leeds pair caught the virus in Iran, while the Bradford patient was infected in northern Italy.

One case was a member of staff at Wimbledon College who tested positive after travelling to Italy. 

The other two cases are spread between London and Hertfordshire and will have caught the virus in Italy.

Scotland also confirmed its first case, in a patient in Tayside who caught the infection in northern Italy. 

Haslemere’s upmarket Waitrose store saw shoppers wearing masks over the weekend and witness Natalie Newman told SurreyLive: ‘I was surprised. I am just telling the kids: ‘Make sure you sanitise your hands’.’ 

Its first confirmed case of coronavirus is believed to be a patient at Haslemere Health Centre who become Britain’s first person to become infected inside the UK without travelling abroad to a hotspot such as Italy, Iran or China. 

They are known to have created a ‘family cluster’ of three more people who have tested positive – one in Surrey and two in neighbouring West Sussex. 

There are also fears that staff there including a GP were also infected – after local MP Jeremy Hunt sent best wishes to the doctor suffering with symptoms – but 72 hours on PHE has not confirmed if the rumour is genuine.

One local said today: ‘I phoned the health centre today as recently have been talking to friends that have been speaking to the staff there I was told it was definitely a doctor and his wife I was told by another it wasn’t a doctor, so I got them to clarify and she said they can categorically say it’s none of the GPs that work there and have been tested, as my daughter came into contact with the said doctor’s wife and I have been stressed all weekend because of there unprofessional behaviour but I do believe they should clarify the person in question’.  

England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, revealed three ‘close contacts’ of the confirmed patient, believed to be his family, had also contracted coronavirus. 

But Prof Whitty added it is not clear if the patient contracted the virus ‘directly or indirectly’ from somebody who had recently returned from a foreign trip.   

Surrey’s so-called ‘patient zero’ remains untraced and may not even be aware at being a carrier if his or her symptoms were mild. 

In Haslemere the health surgery has now reopened after being shut down for a deep clean.

But a mile away the Prince of Wales pub as a ‘precautionary measure’ after a drinker tested positive. The landlord said no staff had any symptoms.

Haslemere’s Camelsdale Primary School has told parents that family linked to the school will be in self-quarantine until Friday after spending time with one of the town’s confirmed cases last month. 

But headtacher Sarah Palmer said the school, which has 215 pupils aged four to 11, would remain open after heeding the Health Secretary’s warning to UK schools to stay open. 

Yesterday, rumours swirled around the wealthy town – where house prices cost on average of £500,000 – that the original spreader may be a commuter.

With trains taking just 52 minutes to London Waterloo, Haslemere is a convenient location for city workers and has one of the highest percentages of first-class rail season ticket holders in the UK

Footfall in high street stores and coffee shops trade was down by at least 50 per cent.

‘The place is so quiet and we are suffering,’ said one shop owner.

‘Usually there would be far more people out and about, but its deadly quiet.’

The Lloyds Pharmacy had sold out of hand sanitiser days ago. 

One worker said: ‘There was a bit of panic when it came out the health centre had closed down, but people are coming in as normal. We sold out of hand sanitiser a few days ago.’  

Haslemere (pictured today) is a quintessentially English commuter town - so much so it was chosen as the setting for a BBC documentary titled 'Contagion!' looking at how a flu outbreak might spread across Britain. The project suggested 48million

Haslemere (pictured today) is a quintessentially English commuter town – so much so it was chosen as the setting for a BBC documentary titled ‘Contagion!’ looking at how a flu outbreak might spread across Britain. The project suggested 48million

Anti=bacterial gel has run out at the Lloyds Pharmacy and trhe empty shelf has been packed with tissues instead

Anti=bacterial gel has run out at the Lloyds Pharmacy and trhe empty shelf has been packed with tissues instead

The Prince of Wales pub as a 'precautionary measure' after a drinker tested positive

The Prince of Wales pub as a ‘precautionary measure’ after a drinker tested positive

The landlords have said they are carrying out a full 'deep clean' in a reassuring message for customers outside

The landlords have said they are carrying out a full ‘deep clean’ in a reassuring message for customers outside

Haslemere residents Dan and Grace Grottick, who discovered the health centre was shutting for cleaning while trying to get a prescription

Haslemere residents Dan and Grace Grottick, who discovered the health centre was shutting for cleaning while trying to get a prescription

Dan Groittick revealed he had called at the Haslemere Health Centre on Friday to pick up his wife Grace’s prescription only to find it in the process of closing down.

‘When they told me what had happened I called the NHS 111 telephone line and they said to wait and see what happens,’ he said.

‘I think people might have been a little afraid, but we have moved on from that.’

His wife added: ‘We will just go about our normal life.’

Not all appeared worried about the outbreak – with several joking online they were more concerned about the ‘avocado and brioche shortages’ in local supermakets. 

Others on community groups teased that Haslemere Health Centre – which was opened again after a ‘deep clean’ – suddenly had ‘loads of availability’. 

However, many older residents who are most at threat spoke of their concern over the potential outbreak in the town.

Francis Lipscomb, 85, said: ‘Where does it all end? My wife, my daughter and my son decided we wouldn’t go out. I rang 111 and they couldn’t really tell me anything.

‘I’m at risk if I were to catch it, and so is my wife because she’s the same age as me.’  

In little over a month more than 10,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Britain, of which 40 came back positive

In little over a month more than 10,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Britain, of which 40 came back positive

The coronavirus outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic, has so far infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000

The coronavirus outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic, has so far infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000

Boris Johnson today insisted the country is 'very very well prepared' for a pandemic

Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured today) admitted nothing is off limits including putting communities on lockdown if needed to stop coronavirus' spread

Boris Johnson today (left) insisted the country is ‘very very well prepared’ for a pandemic after his Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right in Downing Street today) admitted nothing is off limits including putting communities on lockdown if needed to stop coronavirus’ spread

James Ham, 74, said: ‘I didn’t even know anything until I got to the health centre and read the sign on the door. My wife couldn’t collect the prescription as she has really bad asthma, so I’ve come to pick it up.

‘I don’t think young people have much to worry about, but elderly people like me are vulnerable.’

Dennis Smart, an 85-year-old local man, said: ‘On Friday morning I came and rattled on the door [of the health centre] but I found it was closed.

‘I phoned up and they said it is closed, if you need anything urgent go to A&E in Guildford or phone the NHS on 111. It would have been useful if they had told me the pharmacy was open.

‘It is strange because about two weeks ago my wife came here and there was a sign on the door saying: ‘Coronavirus. Keep out’. My wife saw the notice so she turned around and walked away. I spoke to the staff about it when I visited yesterday and they had had no idea it was there.

‘It appeared to be a prankster. I do not know who it was. Someone’s got a warped sense of humour’.

Mr Smart was one of many visitors on Saturday who successfully collected their prescriptions unperturbed by the news of the coronavirus.

One local woman said: ‘My husband was telling me, ‘don’t go there, there is coronavirus’, but the health centre has been deep cleaned. It is probably the safest place in the country.’

With the coronavirus outbreak worsening in Britain and teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic causing more than 3,000 deaths, it has also emerged: 

  • Widespread transmission of coronavirus in the UK is ‘highly likely’ – but not yet ‘inevitable’, Public Health England (PHE) has warned; 
  • Swathes of Britain including cities and towns could be put on lockdown to try to stop the spread of coronavirus;
  • The Bank of England hints it could cut interest rates to help stabilise financial markets as FTSE 100 drops again;
  • Schools across the UK continue to close – the latest being Catholic Wimbledon College in south-west London after a teacher tested positive; 
  • A Chinese woman diagnosed with coronavirus in the UK after going to London’s Lewisham hospital in London in an Uber has been discharged after recovering;
  • Prince Harry’s Invictus Games – a charity event for wounded armed services personnel being held in The Hague – may be called off due to the outbreak;   

Swathes of Britain including cities and towns could also be put on lockdown to try to stop the spread, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has admitted, while Boris Johnson has vowed to take charge of the Government response after being accused of acting like a ‘part-time Prime Minister’ as the number of cases jumped upwards.   

Mr Johnson warned today: ‘It’s very important to stress that this is a problem that is likely to become more significant for this country in the course of the next days and weeks. We’ll be making every possible preparation for that and this country is very, very well prepared’.

He added: ‘We cannot forget that the single most useful thing that we can all do to support the NHS is to wash our hands, two times to Happy Birthday with hot water and soap’. 

There were 13 new cases yesterday alone and there are fears for scores of cancer patients with compromised immune systems after a clinician at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood tested positive – forcing at least 10 colleagues into self-isolation, MailOnline understands. 

 



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