The government will monitor flights arriving from China as part of a range of precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of a new coronavirus to the UK amid the ongoing outbreak in Wuhan.
China has confirmed nine deaths and around 440 cases, but the London-based Medical Research Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis believes the number of cases could be 10 times higher.
China Southern operates three direct Wuhan-Heathrow flights a week, while a number of other UK airports have direct links to China, where the infection has spread to Beijing and Shanghai.
Heathrow confirmed on Wednesday (22 January) it was working with the government to “support the implementation of enhanced monitoring measures as a precaution”.
Wuhan flights into Heathrow will be met in an isolated part of Terminal 4 where health teams will be on standby to check passengers over for, and provide details of, any 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.
Public Health England (PHE) has upgraded the risk to the UK from very low to low, while the Foreign Office (FCO) has urged travellers to be aware of health screening measures in China.
The Department of Health (DoH) and PHE issued a full bulletin on the outbreak on Wednesday afternoon, stating the UK was “carefully monitoring” the situation in Wuhan and was “ready to put in place proportionate, precautionary measures”.
“From today [Wednesday], enhanced monitoring will be in place from all direct flights from Wuhan to the UK,” it read. “The enhanced monitoring package includes a number of measures to provide advice to travellers if they feel unwell.
“For those travelling back directly from Wuhan, this includes a port health team who will meet each direct flight aircraft to provide advice and support to those who feel unwell. The team will include a principal port medical inspector, port health doctor, administrative support and team leader.”