Chinese authorities have halted transport connections including flights at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport amid rising fears the spread of the Novel Coronavirus may prompt a global health emergency.
Wuhan City, the capital of China’s Hubei Province and the source of the outbreak, has suspended buses, trains, ferries and flights today (23 January) in an attempt to curb the deadly virus.
At the time of writing, the new Coronavirus strain being called 2019-nCoV has claimed the lives of at least 17 people and infected more than 600 [although the situation is changing all the time – Ed].
Reports have surfaced that travel restrictions will be extended to Huanggang, east of Hubei Province, later today.
The virus has spread overseas, with cases identified in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Thailand since the December outbreak in Wuhan, where health screening measures are in place. The first case in the US was announced earlier this week (21 January).
PRECAUTIONS AT HEATHROW
Public Health England (PHE) has announced that an ‘enhanced monitoring package’, effective yesterday (22 January), is in place for all direct flights between Wuhan and the UK.
“The enhanced monitoring of direct flights will be kept under continuous review and expanded to other Chinese departure points if necessary,” a government statement read.
Currently, there are no confirmed cases of the new infection in the country, with Dr Nick Phin, Deputy Director, National Infection Service, PHE stating the current risk to the UK ‘is considered low’.
Three direct flights a week arrive into London Heathrow Airport from Wuhan.
The airport confirmed screening measures are in place at Terminal 4. When contacted by TRBusiness, Heathrow confirmed it would not be receiving any Wuhan-origin flights until further notice and urged further questions to be directed to PHE.
A statement supplied to this publication read: “The welfare of our passengers and colleagues is always our main priority and we are working with the Government to support the implementation of enhanced monitoring measures as a precaution.
“We would like to reassure passengers that the Government assesses the risk of a traveller contracting Coronavirus to be low. We would encourage anyone with individual questions or concerns to refer to guidance from Public Health England and the Foreign Office.”
TRBusiness has reached out to PHE to clarify procedure for enhanced monitoring at Heathrow Airport after an arrivals passenger in a BBC report claimed he experienced ‘essentially no screening’ on a direct flight from Wuhan and was instead handed a leaflet.
Gatwick Airport (LGW) does not operate direct flights to Wuhan, although China Eastern runs indirect services to LGW via Shanghai Pudong Airport.
A spokesperson from Gatwick told TRBusiness: “In line with advice from the Department for Health and Social Care and Public Health England, there are no current plans to put screening in place for passengers arriving from China.
“We are cooperating closely with the relevant authorities and will continue to follow the advice of the Department for Health and Social Care and Public Health England.”
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has urged airports to pay close attention to the developing situation and recommends prevention and control measures outlined by Chinese authorities.
It added that airports should ‘follow closely the situation and cut down scheduled flights to and from Wuhan operated by your airlines when necessary’.
An emergency committee was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) under the International Health Regulations (IHR) yesterday (22 January) to assess the spiralling threat.
WHO: BIG DECISION TO MAKE
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement: “As you know, this is an evolving and complex situation.
“I appreciate the cooperation of China’s Minister of Health, who I have spoken with directly during the last few days and weeks. His leadership and the intervention of President Xi and Premier Li have been invaluable, and all the measures they have taken to respond to the outbreak.
“It is clear that to proceed, we need more information. For that reason, I have decided to ask the Emergency Committee to meet again [today] to continue their discussion.
“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence.”
The WHO was informed of unknown cases of pneumonia emerging in Wuhan City in December and has been liaising with Chinese health officials and local experts since to identify and isolate new cases.
According to the organisation, Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses causing illness, from the common cold to more severe afflictions such as MERS and SARS.
This latest strain had not previously been identified in humans.
Earlier this month, the WHO published a range of interim guidance measures for all countries on preparing for the virus, including how to monitor sick people, test samples, treat patients, control infection in health centres, maintain the right supplies, and communicate with the public.
Common symptoms of Coronavirus Novel include respiratory difficulties, fever and coughing, with infection potentially leading to pneumonia, SARS, kidney failure and death.
For more information on Novel Coronavirus, click here.