The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK has doubled from four to eight as the government announced new powers to detain people suspected of having the virus.
The four new cases – three men and one woman – were transferred from where they were diagnosed in Brighton to London over the weekend in order to receive specialist care.
The development came as the UK government declared the coronavirus outbreak a serious and imminent threat to public health, a step that gives authorities additional powers to fight the spread of the disease.
One of the latest group to be diagnosed is a male doctor who was part of a group that were skiing in the resort near Chamonix with the man who is at the centre of the Brighton outbreak, the Guardian understands. The other three patients were also infected in France.
He is being treated St Thomas’ in south London, one of the NHS’s network of specialist high consequence infectious diseases (HCID) treatment centres in England.
One of the other four confirmed cases is being treated at the HCID unit at the Royal Free hospital in north London and the two Chinese nationals who tested positive for Coronavirus in York are being treated at the HCID centre in Newcastle.
Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said: “Four further patients in England have tested positive for novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in the UK to eight.
“The new cases are all known contacts of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France. Experts at Public Health England continue to work hard tracing patient contacts from the UK cases. They successfully identified these individuals and ensured the appropriate support was provided.
“The patients have been transferred to specialist NHS centres at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and the Royal Free hospitals, and we are now using robust infection control measures to prevent further spread of the virus.”
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Monday that “the incidence or transmission of novel coronavirus constitutes a serious and imminent threat to public health”, and designated Arrowe Park hospital in Wirral and Kents Hill Park conference centre in Milton Keynes as official “isolation” facilities, with Wuhan and Hubei province in China labelled an “infected area”.
Under the measures announced on Monday, the Department of Health said people with coronavirus could now be forcibly detained and sent to isolation if public health professionals believe there is a reasonable risk an individual may have the virus.
Hancock said the government was taking every possible step to control the outbreak of coronavirus. “NHS staff and others will now be supported with additional legal powers to keep people safe across the country,” he said.
“The transmission of coronavirus would constitute a serious threat – so I am taking action to protect the public and isolate those at risk of spreading the virus. Clinical advice has not changed about the risk to the public, which remains moderate.”
It has been reported that the new powers were introduced in response to one of the Britons who returned from Wuhan in China, the centre of the outbreak, attempting to leave isolation at Arrowe Park hospital on Merseyside.
All those who have been evacuated to the UK have been asked to sign a contract agreeing to remain in quarantine for 14 days, but there were concerns these contracts were not legally enforceable.
The new designation by the Department of Health follows reports that a British man who caught coronavirus at a business conference in Singapore is linked to at least seven other confirmed cases in England, France and Spain.
The middle-aged man visited a ski chalet in the Alpine resort area near Mont Blanc before returning to the UK on an easyJet flight to Gatwick airport from Geneva on 28 January.
He was diagnosed with the virus in Brighton and was transferred on Thursday to St Thomas’s hospital in London, where there is an infectious diseases unit.
An easyJet spokeswoman said: “EasyJet has been notified by the public health authority that a customer who had recently travelled on one of its flights has since been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Public Health England is contacting all passengers who were seated in the vicinity of the customer on flight EZS8481 from Geneva to London Gatwick on 28 January to provide guidance in line with procedures.
“As the customer was not experiencing any symptoms, the risk to others on board the flight is very low.”
Following the confirmation of the fourth UK case on Sunday, Prof Paul Hunter, professor in medicine, University of East Anglia, said: “From today’s reports, this new case would appear to be linked to the cluster of cases in the French ski resort, which is also linked to the case in Brighton.
“As such, this case is part of the same cluster which is being reported as linked to a British national returning from Singapore.
“Whilst we currently do not know many details about how this new case was linked to others in the cluster, his/her identification does not at this stage indicate wider spread within the UK community.
“If the new individual had been already identified through contact tracing and the person was self-isolating then this should not pose any additional risk.”
As of 2pm on Sunday, the Department of Health said 795 tests had been concluded in the UK, with four testing positive and 791 confirmed negative. British nationals who have been flown back from Wuhan were being quarantined for 14 days.
The second and final flight carrying British citizens from the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire shortly before 7.30am on Sunday.
The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said the flight had brought back 105 British nationals and family members, as well as 95 foreign nationals and family members. Thirteen staff and medical professionals were also onboard. The passengers were taken to the Kents Hill Park hotel and conference centre in Milton Keynes to be quarantined.
The death toll in China from the coronavirus stands at more than 900, surpassing the number of fatalities from the Sars virus in the 2002-03 outbreak.
China’s foreign ministry said 27 foreigners in the country had been confirmed infected with the new coronavirus as of Monday morning, two of whom had died. An American died on 6 February and a Japanese man died on 8 February, a foreign ministry spokesman told a daily news briefing in Beijing.