New China virus: UK ‘to monitor arriving air travellers’

New China virus: UK 'to monitor arriving air travellers'

Airline passengers wait for their flight departures July 5, 2012 at London, England's Heathrow Airport in Terminal 3. Tourism in London is expected to surge when the 2012 Summer Olympics begins July 27, 2012. Heathrow is the busiest airport in the United Kingdom and the 4th busiest airport in the world.

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Getty Images

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Under the measures, Heathrow Airport would have an isolated area for flights from Wuhan

The UK is expected to begin monitoring flights arriving from China, as part of a series of precautionary measures after the spread of a new coronavirus.

The measures, set to be announced later, will apply to flights from Wuhan to London Heathrow.

According to government sources, Public Health England will upgrade the risk to the UK population from very low to low.

Chinese authorities have advised people to stop travel into and out of Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak.

They also admitted the country is now at the “most critical stage” of prevention and control.

So far, there have been 440 confirmed cases and nine people have died.

Most cases have been in Wuhan but the virus has also spread to other Chinese cities.

A handful of cases have also been identified abroad, including in Japan and the United States. There have been no cases in Britain.

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Reuters

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At least 15 medical workers in Wuhan have also been infected with the virus

On Tuesday, authorities in China confirmed for the first time that human-to-human transmission of the virus had taken place.

Health team at airport

In its most recent update on Monday, the UK government said the risk to the population was “very low” while the risk to travellers to Wuhan was “low”.

The situation was “under constant review”, it said.

A government source has now told the BBC that Public Health England and the chief medical officer are expected to increase the risk level to the population to “low”.

And on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is also expected to put in place a series of “port measures” as a precaution which include:

  • A health team to meet each direct flight from Wuhan to London Heathrow
  • Passengers on flights will hear an announcement and be given a leaflet to encourage them to report if they are ill
  • Aircraft will land in an isolated area of Heathrow Terminal 4 that “better lends itself to any health contingencies”

There are currently three direct flights a week from Wuhan to London Heathrow.

It comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) will also consider on Wednesday whether to declare an international public health emergency over the virus – as it did with swine flu and Ebola.

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Getty Images

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Matt Hancock is expected to implement the precautionary measures on Wednesday

Authorities in several countries, including Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan have stepped up screening of air passengers from Wuhan.

US authorities last week announced similar measures at airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. They have now announced plans to introduce similar measures at airports in Chicago and Atlanta this week.

The UK’s expected measures do not appear to include a medical screening of passengers at the airport for signs of the virus, as the UK did in 2014 following the Ebola outbreak.

Then, screening involved taking people’s temperatures to check whether they have a fever and asking several questions to assess their risk.

China – which is stepping up containment measures – has still not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.

But the country’s National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin said there was evidence that the disease was “mainly transmitted through the respiratory tract”.

A National Health Commission official admitted that the country was now at the “most critical stage” of prevention and control.

What we know so far about the Chinese coronavirus

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThe BBC’s online health editor talks us through what we know about the virus

This type of coronavirus is a new strain that hasn’t been seen in humans before, which means doctors still have lots to learn about it.

The first human cases were identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. There have not been any other suspected human cases reported prior to this.

The incubation period (how long it takes for symptoms to appear after catching the infection) is days, rather than weeks.

It is not yet known how or when the virus became infectious to people. Experts believe the first cases were transmitted by an animal.

Other coronaviruses, such as Sars and Mers, came from civet cats and camels respectively.

At the moment, there is no vaccine that can protect people against it, but researchers are looking to develop one.

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