The Foreign Office (FCO) has warned Britons to be aware of potential health screening measures in China following the spread of a new “coronavirus”.
Nearly 300 cases have now been reported across a number of major cities in China, including capital Beijing and Shanghai, claiming several lives – as many as six according to Chinese media.
However, a report by the UK-based MRC Centre for Infectious Disease Analysis, said the number was likely to be considerably higher, closer to 2,000.
The virus is understood to have originated in Wuhan, Hubei province. Two cases have been identified in Thailand, and each one in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. All those affected had recently returned from Wuhan, the BBC reports.
On Monday (20 January), China’s National Health Commission confirmed for the first time the infection could pass from human to human following two cases in Guangdong province.
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.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) will decide on Wednesday (22 January) whether to declare an international public health emergency, which would demand a global response similar to those that followed swine flu and ebola.
Several destinations have stepped up their own screening measures amid the outbreak, including Australia, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The US has introduced new measures at airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.
The FCO updated its travel advice for China on Tuesday, stating: “There is an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus. The virus originated in Wuhan city, Hubei province, but cases have been confirmed in other parts of China. Additional health screening measures may be in place.”
Public Health England’s full statement on the outbreak, issued on Monday, read: “As of Monday 20 January 2020, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has reported 217 cases of Wuhan Novel Coronavirus.
“Four of these cases have been diagnosed outside of China – two in Thailand, one in Japan and one in South Korea, following travel to Wuhan, China. There have also now been cases in other cities in China. There have been three fatalities.
“Based on the latest information and analysis, the World Health Organisation has said that there is evidence of limited human-to-human transmission of the virus.
“Currently, the risk to the UK population is very low and the risk to travellers to Wuhan is low, but the situation is under constant review.
“However, in line with our robust preparedness activities for emerging infections, we have issued clinical guidance for the detection and diagnosis of Wuhan novel coronavirus.
“There are no confirmed cases of this new infection in the UK.”
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of Public Health England’s National Infection Service, added: “Based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK is very low.
“We are working with the WHO and other international partners, have issued advice to the NHS and are keeping the situation under constant review.
“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.
“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.”