Another man in Surrey also tested positive for the virus and, in a joint statement on the latest coronavirus cases, Surrey and West Sussex county councils said ‘all cases are adults and are not health workers’.
The three patients were confirmed as ‘close contacts’ of a man from Surrey, who was the first to have tested positive for coronavirus within the UK.
Despite requests for the precise locations, on the basis that the public should be as well informed as possible to help mitigate their own risks and to be assured that any relevant areas had been deep-cleaned, there was a categoric refusal from both Public Health England and West Sussex County Council.
A county council spokesperson said: “The response is being led nationally by Public Health England (PHE), and location specific information is not being released to protect individual patient confidentiality.
“This virus does not infect buildings but is spread person-to-person.
“The persons concerned are no longer in the area and those deemed to be a potential risk will be advised to self-isolate as a result of PHE’s contact tracing.
“We would like to reassure everyone that West Sussex County Council, together with the NHS and Public Health England, is taking every necessary measure to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading.”
The county council said contact tracing is underway, which ‘includes testing some people’.
The spokesperson added: “It is not surprising that a GP surgery has closed for cleaning as that is part of the primary care guidance.”
On Sunday evening, Ruth Hutchinson, interim director of public health for Surrey County Council, and Anna Raleigh, director of public health for West Sussex County Council, issued a joint statement following the Chief Medical Officer’s update.
They said: “We’re receiving regular updates from colleagues at Public Health England who are already making good progress in contacting anyone who has been in close contact with the individuals to provide them with advice about what to do if they start to feel unwell, and how to manage if they are told to self-isolate.
“This work is a key way of minimising any risk to them and the wider public and while this is a fast-moving situation we would like to reassure everyone that our county councils and health colleagues are well-prepared and doing all we can to minimise the chances of further cases.
“Anyone who is not contacted directly by PHE should continue to go about their life as normal but take extra care to follow public health advice on simple steps we can all take to help reduce the risk of infection.”
Dr James Mapstone, acting regional director (South of England) for Public Health England, said it is providing ‘specialist advice’ to local authority partners around two confirmed cases in Surrey and two in West Sussex.
“The four cases are part of an adult family cluster,” he said. “We are aware of the people they have been in contact with and we are making contact with those people to issue appropriate advice and steps to take if they start to feel unwell.
This newspaper’s view is that the decision not to give more precise location details was entirely unacceptable.
For the county council to say the virus does not infect buildings but is spread person-to-person is misleading. Public Health England’s own website states that once a possible case has been transferred from the primary care premises, the room where the patient was placed should not be used, the room door should remain shut, with windows opened and the air conditioning switched off, until it has been cleaned with detergent and disinfectant. Once this process has been completed, the room can be put back in use immediately.
We do not wish to identify individuals but the public has a right to know more precise locations than a county if only to have confidence that the necessary steps are being taken to protect them.