But it was still enough to set in train a series of events that have left health officials battling to stop the disease – now named Covid-19 – from spreading across the UK.
The 53-year-old had stopped over for four days at a French ski resort to see friends on his way back from the business conference. Unbeknown to him, he was spreading the virus as he went.
By the time he alerted the NHS and Public Health England (PHE), after being contacted by Singaporean authorities about the spread of coronavirus at that conference, he had already passed it on to 11 other Britons at the resort.
Five of them were also back in the UK by this stage – and two were GPs.
Between the six of them, they had come into contact with hundreds of people around Brighton and East and West Sussex before being isolated, giving the virus a real opportunity to get a foothold in the UK and marking the first major test of PHE’s infection containment plans.
The race to contain the virus
PHE’s containment strategy was quickly put into action in both cases. Local PHE staff – there are nine teams across England – were sent to interview the confirmed cases to quickly piece together their movements.
It is a process being repeated in London following confirmation of the ninth UK case, a Chinese national.
This is called contact-tracing and has meant scores of people are being asked to isolate themselves at home. This self-isolation – different from the quarantining of British nationals repatriated from China – lasts until it is clear they are not going to get ill, which can take two weeks.
The hope is this stops the further spread of the virus – because there is no vaccine or cure, containment is the only option.