Bavarian state office for health and food safety Dr Andreas Zapf in Munich, Germany, January 28 2020. Picture: REUTERS/MICHAEL DALDER
Bavarian state office for health and food safety Dr Andreas Zapf in Munich, Germany, January 28 2020. Picture: REUTERS/MICHAEL DALDER

Berlin — Germany has declared its first confirmed case of the coronavirus after a  man contracted it from a colleague visiting his workplace from Shanghai, in one of the first cases of person-to-person transmission outside China.

The case raises concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, which is similar to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, that broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of last year and has killed 106 people and infected more than 2,800 people.

It spreads in droplets from coughs and sneezes and has an incubation period of one to 14 days.

Bavaria’s health ministry said late on Monday that a man in the southern German state is suffering from the virus but is in “good condition” while isolated under medical observation.

On Tuesday, German car parts supplier Webasto said an employee at its headquarters in Stockdorf, Bavaria, had become infected following the visit of an employee from China. A day earlier it said an employee from Shanghai tested positive for the virus on returning to China.

Confirmation of any sustained human-to-human spread of the virus outside China, as well as any documented deaths, would bolster the case for reconvening the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergency committee to reconsider whether to declare a public health emergency of international concern. Last week, the independent panel twice declined to declare an international emergency.

In response to the episode, Germany plans to require travelers arriving from China to provide airlines with contact details, including where they are staying while in the country, health minister Jens Spahn said on Tuesday.

The step will ensure the authorities can get in touch with people who may have come into contact with infected people. Airlines will need to keep the details for 30 days, he said.

Outside China there have now been 45 confirmed cases in 13 countries, with no deaths so far, the WHO’s spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. The WHO said a case in Vietnam involved human-to-human transmission outside China and a Japanese official has said there was a case of human-to-human transmission there too.

Wuhan connection

Andreas Zapf, president of Bavaria’s office for health and food safety, said on Tuesday that the person infected was 33 years old, lived in the district of Landsberg about 50km west of Munich and had come into contact with a Chinese woman on January 21.

Zapf said the Chinese woman was from Shanghai but her parents, who are from the Wuhan region, had visited her a few days earlier. He added that she had arrived in Germany on January 19, appearing not to have any symptoms, but began to feel ill on her flight home on January 23. She sought medical treatment after landing and tested positive for the coronavirus.

When that information was relayed back to the German company, a male employee said he felt like he had flu over the weekend and on Monday was advised to get medical treatment.

The head doctor at the clinic where the man is being treated told a news conference the patient was awake and responsive and he did not think the man’s life was at risk. Martin Hoch, the head of an infectiology task-force, said the man had been in close contact with at least 40 colleagues and family members, adding that number could rise.

Bavaria’s health ministry said people who have been in contact with the man have been informed of possible symptoms, hygiene measures and transmission channels.

Spahn said the risk to people’s health in Germany from the coronavirus remains low.


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