Last month, 109 people gathered in a Singapore hotel for an international sales conference held by a U.K.-based company that makes products to analyze gas. When the attendees flew home, some unwittingly took the coronavirus with them [Editor’s note: the link may be paywalled]. From a report: The virus had a 10-day head start on health authorities who, after belatedly learning a 41-year-old Malaysian participant was infected, began a desperate effort to track the infection through countries including South Korea, England and France. Health investigators have found at least 20 people in six Asian and European countries who were sickened, some who attended the conference and others who came in contact with participants. A globalized economy, one that’s far more integrated than in the early 2000s when the SARS virus broke out, is complicating the task of responding to epidemics.
After this one conference alone, 94 participants left Singapore, authorities determined. Some joined Lunar New Year dinners. Others went on vacation, one to an Alpine ski town. They had eaten, taken car rides and shared a roof with others who then boarded more planes to places the virus hadn’t yet reached. Health officials used international communications channels to share names of the potentially infected and relied on self-reporting by sickened conference-goers, creating “activity maps” that detailed their movement. They checked flight manifests and called passengers. French authorities closed down schools in sparsely populated towns. U.K. public-health officials isolated health-care workers who got the illness and searched for patients with whom they came in contact.
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