Doctor Warns London's Underground System Could Be Breeding Ground For Coronavirus

A confirmed case of the new coronavirus in London raised concerns that the city's mass transit system could help the virus spread.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed a patient was being treated at a hospital in London, bringing the number of cases in the United Kingdom to nine. More than 45,000 people have become infected with the virus since December, but less than one percent of cases involved people outside of China, where it originated.

The U.K.'s most recent patient contracted the virus while in China and Professor Paul Cosford, director for Health Protection and medical director for Public Health England, told BBC they expect more cases involving international travelers.

After cases are confirmed, officials trace the patient's contacts for people who potentially became infected, as well. Jon Cohen, emeritus professor of infectious diseases at Brighton & Sussex Medical School, told The Guardian it was too early to determine the "potential risk" the London patient presented for the virus' ability to spread. To fully understand that risk, he said officials need to know how long the person was in the U.K. before being diagnosed and what "their movements were."

coronavirus london public transportation
A man wears a face mask as he walks along the Thames embankment in central London on January 28. While the risk to the general public remains low, a confirmed case in London raised concerns that there could be more cases in the densely populated area. Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty

Cases of the virus spreading from one person to another outside of China remain limited so the risk COVID-19, the official name for the virus, poses to the public is low. However, Robin Thompson, from Oxford University, told Sky News generally, the risk is higher in an area that's densely populated.

"This is exacerbated by the fact that London is a transport hub, and the underground could provide a network to spread the virus quickly," Thomson said.

In January, Chinese officials shut down the public transportation system in Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the outbreak, to curb the spread of the virus. Along with shutting down mass transit, officials cut off travel into and out of the city and advised people to avoid leaving their homes whenever possible.

During a press conference on Tuesday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said China's effort to contain the virus was the reason there have been so few international cases. However, he expected that status to change and urged countries to strike hard against the virus before the "window of opportunity" closed and countries with weak health systems were impacted.

Of the 44,730 cases in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed 33,366 were in the Hubei Province, where Wuhan is located. It's also been the deadliest area for the virus and 95 percent of the deaths in China are in Hubei.

Most people who test positive for the virus experience mild symptoms, including cough, fever and shortness of breath. However, it can cause pneumonia and be especially dangerous for people with respiratory conditions.

Doctor Warns London's Underground System Could Be Breeding Ground For Coronavirus | U.S.