A London medical conference attended by hundreds of the UK’s leading cardiologists has sparked a worldwide health alert after a heart specialist contracted the omicron variant.
Organisers have issued a warning on its website to 1,200 delegates - about a third of them British - following a positive test for the new Covid-19 variant by a doctor from Israel.
Dr Elad Maor, 45, who was fully vaccinated with three shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, told The Telegraph he believed he contracted the omicron variant during his trip to London for the three-day conference that ended on November 23. That suggests the new variant was circulating in the UK for several days before Britain officially detected its first case on Saturday.
The UK Health Security Agency said it could not comment on individual cases but the event’s organisers, based in France, said it had still to be contacted by NHS Test & Trace about the positive result. Any close contacts of Dr Maor are required to self-isolate for 10 days - even if fully vaccinated - under new rules to try to contain the spread of the omicron strain. That in turn raises the prospect of dozens of cardiologists being forced to stay at home if they prove to be close contacts.
Dr Maor said he arrived in London on November 19 and stayed in a hotel in Islington for four days before flying back to Israel. He attended the PCR London Valves conference, attended by 1,250 delegates from around the world, including Africa, where the strain first originated.
Dr Maor, who works at the Sheba Medical Centre, had tested negative before boarding the flight home to Tel Aviv but began developing Covid-19 symptoms a few days later. He tested positive for the variant on November 27. By then, according to reports, he had performed several cardiac operations and came into contact with another cardiologist, aged 69, who is also now infected with the variant.
'If all were wearing masks then the risk of getting it would be smaller'
Dr Maor said he believed he contracted Covid in London, adding: “I am very frustrated and feel uncomfortable with people who do not wear masks and are reckless. You can see that many people were not wearing masks.I was using the tube and the DLR [Docklands Light Railway]. I don’t know where exactly I got it, but I feel like if all were wearing masks then the risk of getting it would be smaller."
Dr Maor said he spent 48 hours in bed at the weekend with flu-like symptoms including a cough and sore throat. He added that he was still feeling "weak" and hoped to recover soon.
He said: "I was questioned by the ministry of health in Israel once I was positive. They specifically asked me about the flight, what the seat was, and the flight number. I don't know if they contacted the ministry of health in London."
'We have not received any calls from the NHS'
He said he had taken great care to avoid picking up an infection by only removing his face mask in meetings and while eating.
Romain Despax, director at PCR Online, which arranged the conference at the ExCeL centre in east London, said: “We have not received any calls from the NHS so far. They had all the passenger locator forms [from foreign delegates] but we have not received anything.
“We put a notice on our website and we aim to send a notice in our weekly newsletter.”
The notice states: "As per our protocol since the reported case comes less than a week after the end of PCR London Valves, we want to inform you so that you may decide the best course of action for yourself, if any.
"The National Health Service of the United Kingdom is responsible for tracking, tracing and liaison with contact cases and they will contact you if necessary."
Mr Despax said the company learnt of the positive test after hearing about it on the “Twitter network”. Mr Despax added: “We contacted him to wish him a quick recovery and he said he was doing fine.”
He said 60 per cent of the healthcare professionals at the conference were from the UK, about 30 per cent from Europe and 10 per cent from the rest of the world.
The organisers had required proof of vaccination before allowing entry to the venue while Mr Maor, who travelled to the UK with his wife, had undertaken a PCR test on November 20, the day after he arrived in London, once more before flying home and third on arrival in Israel. All three were negative.