Coronavirus outbreak, China: what should travellers know?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is advising against all travel to Hubei Province, China, due to the outbreak. The FCO also advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao).
The Chinese government continue to impose further restrictions on movement within China in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Some airlines, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have suspended flights to and from mainland China. The US and Australia are among countries denying entry to foreign visitors who have recently been in China.
Since 31st December 2019 and as of 3rd February 2020, 17,383 laboratory-confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection have been reported, and 362 deaths.
What has happened?
On 31st December 2019, a novel coronavirus was identified as the likely cause of a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.
On 23rd January, the Wuhan authorities closed all transport hubs including airports, railway and bus stations. Some shops and amenities are closed, public events have been cancelled and Chinese authorities have advised the public to avoid crowds.
In a bid to contain the virus, Chinese authorities have also imposed measures such as temperature checks at transport hubs and other locations; quarantine arrangements for travel between different parts of the country and restrictions on travel between and within cities.
According to the FCO, medical facilities across China are under significant pressure. Some are not accepting patients and others have long queues. Some businesses and many tourist attractions are closed. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended all tour group companies’ activities to prevent further virus spread.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, cases have been reported on the following continents:
Asia: China (17 220), Japan (20), Thailand (19), Singapore (18), Republic of Korea (15), Taiwan (11), Malaysia (8), Vietnam (8), United Arab Emirates (5), India (2), the Philippines (2), Cambodia (1), Nepal (1), and Sri Lanka (1).
Europe: Germany (10), France (6), Italy (2), United Kingdom (2), Russia (2), Finland (1), Spain (1) and Sweden (1).
America: the United States (11) and Canada (4).
Oceania: Australia (12).
Out of the 362 deaths reported, 361 have been reported from China: Hubei (350), Henan (2), Heilongjiang (2), Beijing (1), Hainan (1), Hebei (1), Shanghai (1), Sichuan (1), Chongqing (2).
One death was reported from the Philippines.
What is a novel coronavirus?
According to WHO, a novel coronavirus (CoV) is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are known to cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Some coronaviruses can be transmitted from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient, for example, in a household, workplace, or health care centre.
Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
Dr Lynn Gordon, Chief Medical Officer at Charles Taylor Assistance*, advises individuals thinking of travelling to China to, “Check and heed the latest travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/china before setting off. She adds, “Wherever you’re going, it’s also important to talk to your travel insurance provider, to ensure that you’re covered for emergency medical and repatriation expenses, before you go.”
If you are in an affected area
Wash your hands often with soap and hot water, or with a hand sanitiser.
Keep away from animal and bird markets, as well as people with respiratory illnesses.
Avoid crowded areas.
Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.
Seek medical attention if you develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days, either in China or on your return to the UK.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue if you sneeze.
Thoroughly cook meat and eggs.
Phone ahead before attending any health services and mention your recent travel destinations.
Comply with any screening measures put in place by the local authorities.
For more information and advice, please visit https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus