Doctors have warned that London Underground’s subway network could increase exposure to the coronavirus after it emerged that the British capital’s first case of the disease has been hospitalized, according to Sky News.
It it not known what transport the infected woman — believed to be a Chinese national — used after landing in the UK’s capital. She is currently being treated in a London hospital.
London Underground, known to locals as “the Tube,” is used by 1.3 billion passengers per year and was found in 2017 to be the “dirtiest” branch of the UK capital’s transport network.
The London case is the UK’s ninth case of the coronavirus – now officially named COVID-19 – and the UK government has raised its estimate of risk to the public from “low” to “moderate.”
One of the UK’s busiest transport networks could be an ideal place to spread the coronavirus, an Oxford University academic told Sky News today.
According to a report on Business Insider, the comments come after the UK’s ninth coronavirus patient was confirmed in London – the capital’s first case – who is believed to be a female Chinese national, according to Sky News. The woman picked up the virus in China before arriving in London, the UK’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has confirmed in a statement.
He added that she is currently being treated at London’s Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital.
It is unclear whether or not she used the capital’s subway – known in Britain as “the Tube” – after leaving the airport.
England’s public health authority, Public Health England, has advised people traveling from Hubei, and anyone with symptoms who has recently travelled to China and affected neighboring countries, to avoid public transport and taxis.
But Dr Robin Thompson, a junior research fellow at Oxford University, said the case presents an “increased risk” to Londoners because of the city’s dense population and wealth of transport connections, reported Sky News.
Dr Thompson, whose specialisms include the spread of epidemics, told the outlet: “In general, if an initial case is in a densely populated area, then the risk of sustained person-to-person transmission following is higher.
“This is exacerbated by the fact that London is a transport hub, and the Underground could provide a network to spread the virus quickly.”
“As a result, given this case was in London, it might be expected that there is an increased risk posed by this case compared to the others we have seen.”
Epidemiologist Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow at the University of Southampton, told Sky News that the risk to Londoners depends on her interactions after landing.
“If this is low, then the risk of sustained human-to-human transmission is also low,” he said.
The 250-mile Tube network, which serves 1.3 billion passengers per year, was described in a 2017 study as the “dirtiest form of transport in the capital.”
“London: Under the Microscope” – a collaboration between insurers Staveley Head and London Metropolitan University – found nine so-called “superbugs” – bacteria that are resistant to antibacterial treatment – on the city’s transport.
In a statement updated on Wednesday, the UK’s executive agency for health, Public Health England, said that more COVID-19 cases are “highly likely” in the UK. The risk to the public has been raised from “low” to “moderate.”
The Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday new powers for health workers to forcibly quarantine people who are at risk of spreading the infection, saying he is taking a “belt and braces approach” to the issue – British slang for making doubly sure.
Featured image: Travellers queue as the doors close on a packed rush hour tube train in central London in 2010.
Reporting by Mia Jankowicz @ Business Insider