DOCTORS are battling a “nightmare scenario” after a man became the first to catch the coronavirus within Britain.
Three other new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed among people who had been abroad, taking the UK total to 23.
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It came as PM Boris Johnson set up a war room to combat the virus with the aim of delaying the peak of the outbreak until summer.
The so-called community transmission — picking up the bug without being overseas — has opened a new devastating phase, raising fears of it spreading uncontrollably.
Health officials were desperate to trace those who were in touch with the man who had walked into a GP surgery in Haslemere, Surrey.
They have not found anything linking him to someone who had been to an affected region abroad.
'OUR NIGHTMARE SCENARIO'
A doctor from the practice also has symptoms, ex-Health Secretary and local MP Jeremy Hunt said.
A senior health source said: “This is our nightmare scenario. It’s spreading uncontrollably and we are losing our grip.”
The Department of Health admitted it was “highly likely” Britain would “see some instances of community transmission” — opening up the prospect of more similar home-grown cases
The patient has been moved to a specialist infection centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
Haslemere Health Centre, which the man had attended, was closed briefly. Officials are urgently “contact tracing” to piece together the chain of transmission.
The nearby Prince of Wales pub was also forced to lock its doors.
The landlords put up a sign saying: “Unfortunately a customer who visited us has tested positive for coronavirus so as a precautionary measure we are closing for a full deep clean.”
But the staff have not been told who the coronavirus victim is.
A source said: “It’s doctor-patient confidentiality. All they will say is ‘patient X has been at your pub’. It’s shocking.”
The doctor who has fallen ill could have seen scores of patients before showing symptoms. His wife is also a GP, according to reports.
Public Health England officials are frantically trying to trace dozens of patients they came into contact with in the past week.
All of Britain’s other victims had returned from trips abroad.
Of the other three new cases — in Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire and Berkshire — two had returned from Italy and the other from Asia, Prof Chris Whitty said.
Anyone who had contact with them was being traced.
Experts said the Haslemere case marks a “new chapter”.
Prof Jonathan Ball, of the University of Nottingham said: “This was always a concern — this is a virus that frequently causes symptoms very similar to mild flu or a common cold and it’s easily transmitted from person to person. This means it can easily go under the radar.”
Panicked Haslemere residents demanded to know the man’s name.
Gran Maureen Wisdom, 73, said: “The worry is he didn’t go abroad. Where had he been in the past two weeks? They ought to name him and share a picture — people might recognise him. They might have seen him on the bus or something. We need to know who he is.”
Barmaid Sue Oldershaw, 62, said: “I could have pulled him a pint. The person who gave it to him could be walking along the high street.”
Engineer Terence Keogh, 49, added: “We could have a super-spreader in the area.”
Coincidentally, Haslemere was in 2018 BBC documentary Contagion! about how an infection spreads.
More than 10,000 people in the UK have been tested for the virus.
The only British death was a cruise passenger in his 80s who died in hospital in Japan after being infected on the Diamond Princess.
Last night, a guest suspected of having the virus was self-isolating at a Liverpool hotel. The Army was on standby for barracks to be a quarantine zone.
Government emergency plans include helping the NHS and schools cope with a surge in cases.
Pupils will be taught in bigger classes if a lot of teachers go sick.
Thirty-five schools across the UK are on lockdown.
Drive-through test centres for the virus have opened in Antrim and Edinburgh, with more expected to appear across the country.
Globally, 86,020 people have been infected. A total of 2,942 have died — the vast majority in China’s Hubei province.
A man yesterday tested positive for coronavirus at a quarantined hotel in Tenerife and became the fifth infected there.
He came into close contact with infected Italian guests.
At least six Brits are among 53 guests to have left the H10 Costa Adeje Palace after days of isolation.
British Airways boss Alex Cruz has told staff he expects rival airlines to collapse owing to the virus.
BA crew have threatened to mutiny over being banned from wearing masks and gloves on flights.
Online supermarket Ocado has seen a spike in demand. It said there were “particularly large orders”.
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