A thousand guests and staff at a hotel in Tenerife have been quarantined after an Italian man tested positive for coronavirus, the fourth confirmed case in Spain.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Catalan health department confirmed the region’s first recorded case after a woman from Barcelona tested positive after a trip to northern Italy, the location of Europe’s biggest coronavirus outbreak. Confirmation came hours after the Italian man was diagnosed and his hotel placed on lockdown.
The Spanish health authorities had already two confirmed cases – one on the remote Canary island of La Gomera and another on the Balearic island of Mallorca – but the Catalan case is the first in mainland Spain.
News of the rising infection toll came as the Austrian state of Tyrol, which borders Italy, confirmed its first two cases of the virus and Croatia confirmed its first case in a hospital patient in the capital, Zagreb.
Health authorities in the Canary Islands ordered the lockdown of the H10 Costa Adeje Palace hotel in south Tenerife on Monday, as Spain waited for definitive proof of its third case of the virus. Authorities were also awaiting final tests on the woman in Barcelona.
The hotel is used by the package holiday firms Tui and Jet2Holidays. The four-star, seafront resort was locked down at about 8am on Tuesday, hours after the Italian man, reported to be a doctor, complained of feeling ill and was taken to a local hospital.
The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.
The UN agency advises people to:
- Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
- Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
- Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
- Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.
Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided they are used correctly.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised UK nationals to leave China where possible. It is also warning that travellers from Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand who develop symptoms of cough or fever or shortness of breath within 14 days of returning the UK should contact the NHS by phone.
He and his wife are thought to have spent six days at the hotel. The couple are believed to be from the north of Italy, where most of the country’s 283 cases have been reported.
By Tuesday afternoon, the hotel, on the outskirts of Adeje, was quiet and workers had been told not to come to work.
The resort was guarded by police officers in face masks who declined to speak to the media, and a red barrier had been erected a few hundred metres from the main entrance.
The shops, bars and restaurants inside had been sealed off, and staff who had turned up to work in the morning had been told to go home.
A letter sent by managers to guests at the four-star, seafront hotel said they had to stay in their rooms after the fellow guest’s coronavirus diagnosis.
“H10 Hotels has implemented all health and operational recommendations from the health authorities to ensure the safety and wellbeing of customers and employees,” the hotel said.
“Additionally, we are providing customers and hotel staff all the necessary care and attention so that, despite the inconveniences this situation may cause, they are taken care of in the best way possible.”
A British guest told Reuters he was among those in quarantine and complained of a lack of information.
“We can see from the window there are security officers outside the hotel and about 50 hotel employees,” Christopher Betts said on the phone from his hotel room, adding that guests were asked to remain in their rooms.
Betts said they had been allowed to have breakfast in the hotel restaurant but added: “We have received no information whatsoever.” He said he had not been tested for the virus.
Waiters at a restaurant a short walk from the hotel said most of Tuesday’s lunch bookings had been cancelled as a result of the lockdown. The few customers who ventured in were given a warm welcome, a dose of hand gel and asked, very politely, to keep a few yards away.
But despite the tense mood, people praised the local authorities for their calm and quick response to the situation.
The Spanish government urged people to remain calm and said the cabinet-wide commission on coronavirus had met to discuss the latest developments on Tuesday morning.
Ashotel, the association of hoteliers on Tenerife and four other Canary islands, also called for calm and said the established protocols were in effect.
“The hotel where the affected tourist was staying is doing everything it can to deal with the situation and is demonstrating complete responsibility and following all the steps laid out in the protocol,” said a spokeswoman for the association.
“The situation inside the hotel is normal; all the customers are being kept informed about what’s going and are cooperating fully when it comes to following the recommendations laid out by the authorities.”
In a statement issued late on Monday night, the regional health ministry said “an Italian citizen has tested positive during initial tests at the University Hospital of Our Lady of Candelaria” in Tenerife, adding that samples had been sent to the National Microbiology Centre near Madrid for tests.
“The man is in isolation and under medical supervision,” the statement said. “The Canary Islands have, in coordination with the national health ministry, activated the same protocol undertaken in other parts of the country where other suspected cases of the disease have been detected.”
The Canaries are still dealing with the aftermath of a Saharan sandstorm that reduced visibility and left thousands of travellers stranded in airports over the weekend.
The meteorological phenomenon, which is known as a calima, was accompanied by strong winds of up to 75mph that fanned at least three wildfires on different Canary islands.