A British academic who returned from China this week has said that no one from the UK government has tried to contact him regarding the coronavirus outbreak.
Health officials have teamed up with Border Force agents and airlines to try to track down about 2,000 people who have flown to the UK from Wuhan, the area worst affected by the outbreak.
Prof Martin Dove, who works for Queen Mary College London and Wuhan University of Technology, had been working in Wuhan from 3-12 January before heading to other parts of China and flying home on Wednesday.
After reading that Public Health England wanted to trace all those who had arrived back to the UK from Wuhan in the past 14 days, the physics professor tried to email PHE on various addresses and even emailed the chief medical officer Chris Whitty, but says he has not heard back from anyone.
On Saturday the government said that 31 people in the UK had been tested for the virus – all negative. On Friday the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the NHS was “ready to respond appropriately” to any cases.
Dove told the Guardian that although he did not feel unwell, he would like to rule himself out and he believed the government could be doing more to contact those in his position.: “If they want to track us down, why don’t they make it easier for us to contact them?
“The only way they are going to find me is by checking the flight records. They’ve got to be quite clever because there are not that many direct flights to Wuhan. Most people get to Wuhan through a hub airport.”
It would save the government “a lot of hard work” tracking flights and movements in and out of Wuhan if they allowed people to self-report. “It would be better if they just said, ‘contact us on this number’, and I could call them up and say, ‘I’m one of the people you’re looking for,’ but there is nothing.”
Dove flew back to Heathrow from China via Hong Kong and said no information was given out at any point. He said he was not worried either before he flew over or while he was in China. “Before I went I had heard there were cases of pneumonia and people were saying it could be SARS, but my colleagues at the university said it was happening really far away form them. Wuhan is a very big city. It’s bigger than greater London.”
On Friday, Whitty said there was a “fair chance” cases would emerge in Britain as the number of cases reported worldwide rose to more than 1,300, including 41 deaths – all in China.
Speaking after a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee in Whitehall on Friday, the chief medical officer said: “I am working closely with the other UK chief medical officers. We all agree that the risk to the UK public remains low, but there may well be cases in the UK at some stage.
“I think we should definitely see this as a marathon, not a sprint. We need to have our entire response based on that principle.”
The Department of Health confirmed it was trying to find “as many passengers as we can” who arrived from the region in the past two weeks to check on their wellbeing.
A spokeswoman said work was ongoing to get the information needed to contact all relevant people, adding it is “quite a long process” and will take some time.