A group of Britons sharing a chalet in the Alps have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, a week before thousands of U.K. families are due to travel to France for skiing vacations during school holidays.
The group of five includes four adults and a child and none of the cases are serious, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said on BFM TV Saturday.
The cases started with another British national who traveled to France after a three-day stay in Singapore, arriving in the Haute Savoie region on January 24 for four days, the minister said.
Coronavirus cases in the Alps could affect the plans of thousands of U.K. families, who visit the Alps during mid-term school holidays.
The school break for the Paris region started on Friday, making the coming weeks the peak season for ski vacations.
The Haute Savoie and Savoie departments, home to popular ski resorts like Chamonix and Val d'Isere, can accommodate more than 1 million tourists at a time, according to the French statistics agency Insee.
The new cases were discovered among 11 people who stayed in two apartments in the same chalet in the village of Les Contamines-Montjoie, according to Buzyn and French officials.
All were hospitalised, and the nine-year-old child who who was infected had visited two local schools in the region, Jean-Yves Grall, head of the local health authority said at a press conference in Annecy.
"We are intensifying the search for people who had contact" with the infected, he said. The two schools will be temporarily closed.
One of the British families has been living in the village since last year and their three children attend the local school, Mayor Etienne Jacquet said on BFM TV.
Another family from the U.K. had come to visit. A public meeting in the town is planned to reassure local residents and tourists, he said.
The British man the families were exposed to tested positive for the virus in Brighton after his return to the U.K., the Telegraph newspaper reported.
He was taken to an isolation facility in Sussex and French authorities were notified, the paper said. He had attended business meetings in Singapore with 90 other foreigners, the Telegraph said, citing a French health ministry official.
"We are still a long way from any kind of confinement situation," Jacquet, the village mayor, said. "There is no real worry at this stage."
Frans Mustert of the Alpine Lodge in Les Contamines-Montjoie said he's received phone calls from customers asking about the new infections, but so far, no cancellations.
"People are concerned so we're trying to reassure people and telling them to take precautions like hand-washing," he said by phone from the village, which mostly has relatively small chalet-style buildings, two hotels and not more than five or six restaurants, he said.
Total deaths from the virus may reach a new threshold today or tomorrow if the disease continues to kill people at its current pace.
The global death toll has reached 724 in about two months, while the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, killed 774 people over a period that lasted about eight months.