A public health risk has been raised for the UK after concerns grow over a new disease called coronavirus which could be being brought back by passengers visiting China.
The Department of Health and Social Care has put in place ‘proportionate’ and ‘precautionary’ measures for passengers flying back from Wuhan in China to Heathrow - where there are three direct flights a week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, coronavirus has symptoms which include a runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell.
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England, said, “This is a new and rapidly evolving situation where information on cases and the virus is being gathered and assessed daily.
“Based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK is considered low. We are working with the World Health Organisation and other international partners, which have issued advice to the NHS and are keeping the situation under constant review.
“If you are travelling to Wuhan, you 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. They should phone ahead before attending any health services and mention their recent travel to the city.”
A Public Health England spokeswoman said ‘enhanced monitoring’ will be in place direct flights from Wuhan to Heathrow and that the NHS is ‘well prepared’ to manage and treat new diseases.
The spokeswoman said, “The enhanced monitoring package includes a number of measures that will help 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 that feel unwell.
“The team will include the principal port medical inspector, port health doctor, administrative support, and team leader. The team will check for symptoms of coronavirus and provide information to all passengers about symptoms, and what to do if they become ill.
“Mandarin and Cantonese language support will be available to PHE and leaflets will be available to passengers.”
The spokeswoman said the flights will be under continuos review and expanded to other Chinese departure points if necessary.
She said, “Based on the emerging evidence regarding case numbers, potential sources and human to human transmission, the risk to the UK population has currently been assessed as low. This has been raised from very low due to current evidence on the likelihood of cases being imported into this country.
“In line with our robust preparedness activities for emerging infections, we have issued clinical guidance for the detection and diagnosis of Wuhan novel coronavirus and PHE has developed a diagnostic test.
“Thanks to PHE, the UK is now one of the first countries outside China to have a prototype specific laboratory test for this novel disease.
“There are currently no confirmed cases of this new infection in the UK.”
Leaflets and information will be made available across all UK airports, advising travellers from China on what do to if they feel unwell.