The SARS-like coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in China, with the number of confirmed cases having tripled since Monday (20 January 2020).
There have been 440 confirmed cases of the virus since the outbreak, according to official Chinese figures, and at least 17 people have died, according to latest reports from the BBC. Chinese officials have confirmed that the virus, which causes a type of pneumonia, has been transmitted from human-to-human.
Today, the US has confirmed the first case of the new coronavirus on its territory. The male patient had been travelling in Wuhan, China, before returning to his hometown of Seattle, where he has since been diagnosed.
Aside from the United States, two cases have been identified in Thailand, one in Japan, one in South Korea and one in Taiwan since the beginning of this week. All those infected had recently returned from Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak.
So, the question is: Is it safe to travel?
Last night (22 January), a total ban was imposed by Wuhan officials, with no planes or trains leaving the region and all local public transport suspended. Citizens have been ordered not to leave unless there are ‘special conditions’.
While there have been no cases yet in Britain, it is believed to be on its way and as such, enhanced monitoring will be in place from all direct flights from Wuhan to the UK. This will apply to flights from Wuhan to London Heathrow. A health team will be on stand to check air passengers who feel unwell for symptoms once they arrive into Terminal 4.
As well as the UK, authorities in the US, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan have also stepped up screening of air passengers from Wuhan.
The Foreign Office has strongly advised against all but essential travel to China and advised Britons to remain ‘vigilant’.
Leading travel association ABTA advises travellers planning on visiting the country to read the Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice for China, which includes a link to TravelHealthPro, which provides specific travel health advice for countries.
According to the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC), the risk of pneumonia, due to the novel coronavirus to the UK population, is low, as is the risk to those travelling to Wuhan. However, if you are travelling to this area of China, it advises travellers to take simple precautions to minimise the risk of transmission.
These include maintaining good hand and personal hygiene and avoiding animals, animal products (such as uncooked meat) and animal markets.
“People travelling to Wuhan should maintain good hand, respiratory and personal hygiene and should avoid visiting animal and bird markets or people who are ill with respiratory symptoms,” said deputy director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England, Dr Nick Phin.
“Individuals should seek medical attention if they develop respiratory symptoms within 14 days of visiting Wuhan, either in China or on their return to the UK, informing their health service prior to their attendance about their recent travel to the city.”
Along with air passengers, cruise passengers are also being issued with the latest travel advice. To ensure passengers’ safety, Norwegian Cruise Lines has introduced non-touch temperature screenings for all passengers boarding ships from Chinese ports to avoid spread of infection on ships.
“The safety, security and well-being of our guests and crew is our number one priority. As such, due to the growing concern regarding coronavirus infections in China, we are implementing non-touch temperature screenings for all passengers embarking from Chinese ports,” said a spokesperson at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd.
“Guests who register a body temperature screening of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius or higher will not be allowed to board and will be directed to seek local medical treatment.
“In addition, guests travelling from Wuhan, China or who have been in the city in the last 30 days will be denied boarding. As always, we will monitor the situation closely.”
Royal Caribbean has advised passengers to contact embassies and visa services “to ensure their holiday meets all of the requirements of the transit visa”.
This article will be updated.