The Foreign Office (FCO) has warned Britons to avoid all but essential travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan, which was locked down by Chinese authorities on Wednesday (22 January) amid an ongoing outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus.
Wuhan’s 11 million residents have been advised not to leave the city in an attempt to contain the virus, which has already spread to Chinese capital Beijing and financial centre Shanghai.
Confirmed cases have been reported in the US, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong. Several nations have introduced additional screening measures.
China says 17 people have died from the infection, and has confirmed more than 500 cases. However, the London-based Medical Research Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis believes the number of cases could be in the region of 4,000.
Public transport has been temporarily shut down in Wuhan in an attempt to prevent the virus spreading further.
The FCO on Wednesday strengthened its travel advice, advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan in China’s Hubei province “due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak”. Visitors are advised to comply with any additional screening measures enacted by local authorities in Wuhan.
It follows fresh advice from the Department of Health (DoH) and Public Health England (PHE), which started monitoring China Southern’s three-times-weekly flights between Wuhan and Heathrow on Wednesday before China’s restrictions were imposed.
Aircraft were due to be met in an isolated area of Terminal 4, with health teams laid on to check passengers for symptoms.
The virus is known to cause respiratory illnesses in humans, akin to pneumonia or bronchitis, with cold-like symptoms such as headache, cough, sore throat and fever.
Passengers were due to be provided leaflets, available in Mandarin and Cantonese, with information on what to do in the event they do become ill. The DoH said these leaflets would be made available across all UK airports, if necessary.
Both the DoH and PHE have stated direct UK flights will be monitored and kept under continuous review, adding the measures could be extended to other Chinese departure points should the infection spread further in China.
The World Health Organisation’s emergency committee (WHO) on Wednesday decided not to declare a global coronavirus emergency, as it did with the zika virus and ebola, after a day’s discussions in Geneva, which would require a broader global response to the issue. Health experts will reconvene on Thursday to discuss the situation (23 January).
Britons have also been advised by the FCO to comply with any screening measures in other countries guarding against the infection, including Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
PHE has confirmed no cases have been recorded in the UK, adding the risk to the UK remains low.