A man from Surrey has been taken to a hospital isolation unit after becoming the UK’s 20th confirmed case of coronavirus.
He is the first patient in England to catch the illness in the UK. The chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said it was unclear whether they contracted it directly or indirectly from someone who had recently returned from abroad.
“This is being investigated and contact tracing has begun. The patient has been transferred to a specialist NHS infection centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ [hospital].”
As part of the official action plan being drawn up by ministers and Whitty, military medics, and British Red Cross and St John Ambulance personnel will be drafted in to help the NHS cope with a major outbreak.
The number of confirmed cases in the UK has jumped from 13 to 20 in the last 24 hours, with five emerging in England and one each in Wales and Northern Ireland.
Separately, the Guardian has been told that a GP may also have been infected with the virus.
If this were to be confirmed it would prompt particular concern among health officials trying to limit the spread of Covid-19.
The GP would routinely have seen scores of patients over the course of the last week before he became ill in the last 24 hours.
His diagnosis has yet to be publicly confirmed by Public Health England (PHE), NHS England or the Department of Health and Social Care.
Public health chiefs are also worried about the unnamed doctor’s diagnosis because his wife is also a GP.
PHE is “contact tracing” everyone with whom either of the couple has been in contact – including all patients they have seen – so they can also be tested for evidence of the virus.
That exercise involves scores of patients as the couple are understood to have been working normally for several days before he was identified as a carrier of the virus.
It is not yet known if his wife has also contracted the virus, which for the first time has claimed the life of a Briton – a passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise liner.
Public health officials looking into the GP’s case have not yet established how he might have caught the virus but he has not recently visited any of the places abroad where there have been recent outbreaks, such as northern Italy, Tenerife, Iran and China.
Contact tracing of his patients is likely to look into whether anyone he has seen in recent days has been to any of those destinations.
If confirmed, he would be the second GP to contract coronavirus among what is now 20 confirmed cases in the UK. The first, a family doctor in Brighton, and a member of staff at Worthing hospital, also in Sussex, were among the first cases to be identified in Britain earlier this month.