Travel advisory | Why WHO's name change to COVID-19 is important

2020-02-07 08:49
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UPDATE: Airbnb suspends all bookings in China until May

Home-sharing booking site, Airbnb has announced that it will be suspending all booking in areas in China affected by the deadly coronavirus. 

Travel and Leisure reports that outside of the city of Beijing, local governments have requested to suspend bookings in Wuhan, Wuxi, Chongqing’s Yongchuan District and Shenyang’s Sujiatun District. 

The company will be refunding customers who booked their accommodation in these regions, before January 28th with a check-in date of April 1. 

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UPDATE: Lufthansa cancels China flights through to late March 

German airline giant Lufthansa said Friday it would prolong its suspension of flights to the Chinese mainland until March 28 over the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

"The Lufthansa Group has now decided to cancel the flights of Lufthansa, Swiss and Austrian Airlines from/to Beijing and Shanghai until the end of the winter timetable on 28 March" rather than 29 February, the group said in a statement.

Lufthansa flights to Nanjing, Shenyang and Qingdao were already cancelled until the same date.

Meanwhile the group will respond to reduced demand for Hong Kong flights by cancelling some flights by flagship carrier Lufthansa and using smaller planes on Swiss connections.

Passengers whose flight has been cancelled can change their booking at no charge or receive a full refund, Lufthansa said.

On Thursday, UN body the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) estimated almost 20 million fewer passengers would travel to and from China in the first quarter compared with expectations, costing the airline industry up to $5 billion in revenue worldwide. 

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The World Health Organisation has announced it will be renaming 2019 novel coronavirus to COVID-19. 

This strain of coronavirus has infected over 43,000 people worldwide, resulting in 1017 deaths.WHO says it had to find a name that did not reference a specific place, animal or group of people.

The virus reportedly originated in the city of Wuhan in China, which led to it being frequently named the “Wuhan coronavirus,” or “Chinese coronavirus”, as racism against Chinese people has escalated. 

Forbes reports the naming of previous viruses has had a significant impact - citing Swine flu, first thought to originated from pigs, and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), first reported in Saudi Arabia as examples. 

WHO has since looked to keep names that are more generic and without creating the stigmatisation of  anything, region or person. China as a whole has already seen a significant drop in tourism, amongst other knock-on effects due to fears of the disease. 

Currently no confirmed cased have been reported in South Africa.  

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South Africans cancelling Asia travel plans due to virus fears
Coronovirus fears are impacting outbound travel from South Africa, according to Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA)

Its members have confirmed that  leisure travel has been particularly affected. 

Some holidaymakers are choosing alternative destinations to Asia, usually seen as the more affordable travel destinations for South Africans booking in rands. Some are even "deferring their travel or cancelling their travel plans, as the situation is evolving rapidly, and its potential impact is unknown". 

The virus, first identified in China on December 31, has killed more than 1 000 people, infected over 42 000 and reached some 25 countries. No cases have been confirmed in South Africa.  

READ: This experience is terrifying, says SA graduate trapped in epicentre of coronavirus outbreak

Otto de Vries, CEO ASATA says, "Travel suppliers such as cruise lines, airlines and tour operators have implemented proactive measures, such as rerouting itineraries, cancelling flights to affected areas, increasing their health precautions and enforcing travel restrictions to mitigate the risk of contracting the virus.

Cancellation fees being waived

“In some cases, cruise lines and airlines are waiving their cancellation and change penalties outright to accommodate passengers who choose to cancel or defer their travel plans. There is no question that there will be an impact to the outbound travel sector as the wider public gets to grips with how and where the virus is spreading.”

However, South Africa’s outbound travel sector has been equipping travellers, who are choosing to travel, with information on what precautions to take, based on those outlined by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases.

The national institute for communicable diseases (NICD) has also advised the industry that while travellers should think twice about travelling to China, travel to other destinations should be fine provided the necessary precautions are taken.

The Department of Health has advised travellers to avoid contact with animals, as well as encouraged them to practice good hand hygiene and cough etiquette in order to reduce the risk of infection with respiratory viruses. The following are emphasised:

  • Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections
  • Practice frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment
  • Avoid visiting markets where live animals are sold.
  • Travellers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing and wash hands).
  • Health practitioners should provide to travellers information to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections, via travel health clinics, travel agencies, conveyance operators and at points of entry. Travellers should also be encouraged to self-report if they feel ill.

In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness before, during or after travel, the traveller must seek medical attention and share travel history with their health care provider.   

"It is our responsibility as the travel industry to ensure we are advising our customers proactively and accurately, to the best of our ability, about what the actual situation is on the ground," says de Vries. 

ASATA members are also advising travellers, who do choose to travel, to ensure they have the right travel insurance and to know what their policy includes, so that if they need to cancel or defer their travel, they are covered appropriately. 

South African travellers, who are returning from their holiday or business trips, can be assured that currently there are no travel or trade restrictions to South Africa, and that any passenger found to be ill or exhibiting fever symptoms on arrival will be reviewed at airport clinics. 

ASATA members confirm that, although China is a major trading partner of South Africa, corporate travel has been less affected than leisure travel.

Some business travellers and groups are however choosing to cancel or defer their travels to certain Asian destinations until more clarity can be obtained.

“We urge any leisure or corporate traveller to speak to their travel expert and ascertain what their options are. We will continue to advise our members proactively on the situation on the ground, so that travellers can be informed responsibly about the spread of Coronavirus and the precautions they need to take when travelling,” says de Vries. 


Thai minister berates 'Western' tourists' lack of face masks

Thailand's health minister lashed out at "Western" tourists on Friday for not wearing face masks and suggested they be expelled from the country for putting others at risk during the coronavirus outbreak.

The outburst came as the kingdom faced steep losses over a drop in visitors from China, where the virus has killed more than 600 people and prompted sweeping travel restrictions.

WATCH: Influencer forces emergency landing after pretending to be infected with the coronavirus 

Tourism accounts for 18% of the country's gross domestic product and Chinese holidaymakers make up a quarter of total arrivals.

Thailand has detected 25 coronavirus cases and nine of those patients have recovered, while streets, public transport and shopping centres have filled with people wearing face masks.

Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul was distributing masks at a busy Bangkok skytrain entrance when he complained that "farang" tourists didn't take them and acted as if they "don't care".

Farang is a commonly used Thai word to describe Westerners and is sometimes used dismissively.

"These kinds of people, we should kick them out of Thailand," he told reporters, waving a handful of masks in the air.

Anutin did not respond to additional requests for comment but posted an apology on his Facebook page for "losing it" after "some foreigners from Europe" were uncooperative in the mask campaign.

More than 10 million Chinese tourists visited Thailand last year but the industry projects about two million fewer arrivals in 2020 because of the coronavirus, making US, European and other markets more vital.

Debates over the efficacy of masks have bounced around the internet since the contagion first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last month.

Since then it has spread to more than two dozen countries and infected tens of thousands, mostly within mainland China.

Health experts generally agree masks are useful if you have respiratory symptoms or are caring for patients.

But the World Health Organization's own Thailand office tweeted a graphic on February 4 stating masks are "not needed for general public who do not have respiratory symptoms".

The WHO has advised people to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their face.

Tourists wear protective facemasks while walking a

Tourists wear protective facemasks while walking along a commercial center in Bangkok. (Photo: Romeo Gacad/AFP) 


Virgin Australia said on Thursday it would scrap flights between Sydney and Hong Kong, just 18 months after launching the route, blaming reduced demand caused by anti-government protests and the coronavirus outbreak.

AFP reports the airline began flying from Australia's biggest city to Hong Kong in mid-2018, calling its China expansion a "key pillar" of its international strategy at the time, but now admits the route proved "challenging".

Virgin Australia Group chief commercial officer John MacLeod said demand had declined following months of sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong that have been followed by the coronavirus outbreak in China, which has spread to the city.

'Hong Kong is no longer a commercially viable route' 

"While the decision to withdraw from the Hong Kong market has been a difficult one, it demonstrates our strong focus on driving greater financial discipline through our network," he said in a statement.

"Current circumstances demonstrate that Hong Kong is no longer a commercially viable route for Virgin Australia to continue operating, however international tourism remains an important part of our strategy through our other international routes and partner airlines."

The route will cease operating on March 2.

Australian transport department data shows Virgin's outbound Sydney-Hong Kong flights were operating at just 64 percent capacity in November, compared with 80 percent for Qantas and Cathay Pacific.

The announcement comes as the airlines faces wider financial troubles, posting an underlying before-tax loss of Aus$71.2 million ($48.1 million) last year after achieving an underlying profit of Aus$64.4 million the previous financial year.

Virgin also announced in November it would suspend services between Melbourne and Hong Kong from February 11. 


Air Mauritius suspends flights to Hong Kong

Air Mauritius has suspended all direct flights to Hong Kong until further notice, with effect from February 4. Eligible passengers travelling between Mauritius and Hong Kong will be rerouted through the airline’s hubs in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, says the Airline. 

Mauritius has also enforced restrictions for any foreign national who has resided in China or who has travelled to and from China within the last 14 days boarding any Air Mauritius flights.

' They will not be allowed entry to or transit in Mauritius." 


Coronavirus travel advisory | Hong Kong reports first related death 

Hong Kong on Tuesday became the second place outside mainland China to report the death of a coronavirus patient as restrictions on movement were imposed in more cities far from the epicentre, including the home of tech giant Alibaba.

The toll on the mainland soared to 425 deaths after 64 more people died, the biggest single day tally since the first fatalities emerged last month.In a sign of growing concerns about infections rising further in major metropolitan areas, authorities in eastern Zhejiang province limited the number of people allowed to venture outside in three cities.Three districts in Hangzhou - including the area where the main office of Chinese tech giant Alibaba is based -- decided to allow only one person per household to go outside every two days to buy necessities, affecting some three million people.The city is only 175 kilometres (110 miles) southwest of Shanghai, which has more than 200 cases, including one death, so far.Similar measures were imposed in Taizhou and three districts in Ningbo, with total populations of nine million, days after the same was done in Wenzhou, home to another nine million people.Zhejiang province has confirmed 829 cases - the highest number outside the central region of Hubei, whose capital, Wuhan, is the epicentre of the outbreak.The disease is believed to have emerged in a market in Wuhan that sold wild animals, spreading rapidly as people travelled for the Lunar New Year holiday in late January.China has struggled to contain the virus despite enacting unprecedented measures, including locking down more than 50 million people in Hubei.The death of the 39-year-old man in Hong Kong came as the semi-autonomous city closed all but two land crossings with the Chinese mainland to slow the spread of the virus.Hong Kong media said the man had underlying health issues that complicated his treatment. He had visited Wuhan last month.Hong Kong has been particularly on edge over the virus as it has revived memories of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03, which killed nearly 300 people in the financial hub and 349 people in the mainland.With more than 20 400 confirmed infections in China, the mortality rate for the new coronavirus is much lower than the 9.6 percent rate for SARS.The virus has so far spread to more than 20 countries, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global health emergency, several governments to institute travel restrictions, and airlines to suspend flights to and from China.On Sunday the Philippines reported the death of a Chinese man who had come from Wuhan -- the first outside China.'Shortcomings and difficulties'

China's Communist leadership made a rare admission of fallibility on Monday as it acknowledged "shortcomings and difficulties exposed in the response to the epidemic".The elite Politburo Standing Committee called for improvements to the "national emergency management system" at the meeting, according to the official Xinhua news agency."It is necessary to strengthen market supervision, resolutely ban and severely crack down on illegal wildlife markets and trade," the Politburo said.The government also said it "urgently" needed medical equipment such as surgical masks, protective suits and safety goggles as it battles to control the outbreak.Most of the deaths have been in Wuhan and the rest of surrounding Hubei province, which has largely been under lockdown for almost two weeks.A 1,000-bed field hospital in Wuhan built from scratch within two weeks to relieve overburdened medical facilities started receiving patients on Tuesday.A second makeshift hospital is due to open later this week. 


MAPPED: The global spread of the coronavirus: Where is it?

The coronavirus is spreading at lighting speed, as it has infected more than 14 000 people across China and caused 360, up about 56 deaths since Sunday. 

The latest figures from China show there are over 17 000 people infected in the country.Outside mainland China, there have been more than 100 infections reported in around two dozen places. There has also been one death, in the Philippines.Here's where 2019-nCoV has been confirmed:


UPDATE: Airport screening 'not effective' against the coronavirus - experts

The coronavirus is spreading at lighting speed, as it has infected more than 14 000 people across China and caused 304 deaths. 

Outside mainland China, there have been more than 100 infections reported in more than 20 countries, according to AFP.

The Philippines on Sunday reported the first death from the virus outside mainland China. 

The virus was first identified in December 2019, with the World Health Organisation declaring it a global health emergency on Thursday, 30 January.

No reports of infections are known or being treated in South Africa to date, with Southern African neighbour Botswana being the closest country to treat a suspected case of the virus. 

READ: Coronavirus: Botswana registers its first suspected case

SA's ports of entry have stepped up measures to ensure airports with direct flights to and from China have the necessary monitoring stations setup. 

Screening people at airports for signs of for high temperatures isn’t likely to detect too many cases, health experts say, since the disease incubates for about 14 days, once the host is infected. 

So they could be walking around for a full two weeks before any symptoms of a fever can show. A Preliminary study by a team from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, indicates "thermal scanning would identify fewer than one in five passengers infected with the coronavirus". Unless passengers have a fever, nothing will be detected.

WATCH | Health dept updates SA on coronavirus 

However, the Department of Health says, "South Africans are assured that measures are in place to detect, manage and contain any cases of Novel Coronavirus should it come to our shores. So far, there are not suspected cases reported."

"Port health professionals routinely conducts temperature screening for all international travellers. However, due to the current risk of importation of inadvertent cases of 2019-nCoV from Wuhan City – China, Port Health authorities have enhanced surveillance," says the department of health. 

'No need to panic'

"South Africa has developed and distributed clinical guidelines and case definitions to doctors and nurses in both the public and the private sectors. These include information on how to diagnosis and respond to a possible 2019-nCoV case.

Provinces have activated outbreak response teams and are on high alert to detect and manage inadvertent cases that may arrive in the country, says the department.

LATEST:No cases of coronavirus in SA - National Institute for Communicable Diseases

Case reported in Botswana

Botswana registered its first ever suspected case of corona virus on Thursday, 30 January 2020. The suspected case was registered at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport upon arrival using Ethiopian Airways from China, the Botswana Government said in a press statement. 

Australia issues Travel Advisory

The Australian government has joined the UK in issuing a travel advisory, advising again travel to mainland China on Saturday.

AFP reports it would bar non-citizens arriving from China from entering the country under new measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said only "Australian citizens, Australian residents, dependents, legal guardians or spouses" would be permitted into the country from China from Saturday. 

"Those that do return will be required to go into self isolation for 14 days." 


UPDATE: MSC implements added safety measures as WHO escalates Coronavirus to global emergency

The Coronavirus has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by The World Health Organisation on Thursday, 30 January.

The global outbreak includes 98 cases in 18 countries, outside China. Latest reports indicate at least 213 people have died in China, and almost 10 000 cases of the virus have already been reported. 

While major airlines like Virgin Atlantic, KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways have cancelled flights from and to mainland China, the cruise industry has also been hard hit in the wake of the global emergency.

MSC Cruises said in a statement it had taken precautionary measures for the health and well-being of its guests and crew on all of its global fleet, following the advisory. 

"While there are no cases of coronavirus on board any of MSC Cruises’ ships, MSC cruises has today implemented additional public health measures across its fleet." 

  • Guests from all nationalities are required to fill out a pre-embarkation questionnaire to ensure no-one who has travelled from mainland China or visited mainland China in the past 30 days boards their ship. Anyone who has travelled from mainland China or visited mainland China in the past 30 days will be denied access to the ship; 
  • Mandatory non-touch thermal scans are conducted for all guests and crew prior to embarkation for every cruise operated by the company anywhere in the world. Persons with signs or symptoms of illness such as fever (≥38 C°) or feverishness, chills, cough or difficulty breathing will be denied embarkation;

AFP reports Cruise operators MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises said on Thursday that they had cancelled departures from Chinese ports because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak. 

Thousands of stranded tourists were free to disembark from a cruise ship at an Italian port. The ship was initially put on lockdown after authorities said two Chinese passengers feared to have the Coronavirus - but they eventually tested negative Thursday.  


UPDATE: Lufthansa and KLM join BA in cancelling flights to and from mainland China

South African Airports are monitoring arrivals for the Coronavirus, with no locally reported cases - however airlines across the globe continue to take the cautionary approach - as the disease has killed some 170 people since the outbreak emerged in the city of Wuhan. 

On Thursday, 30 January - more airlines confirmed they would be cancelling flights to mainland China as the spread of the coronavirus continues. Travellers are being advised to check the latest updates with their airline. 

The following airlines have now cancelled flights:

  • Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian Airlines will suspend all flights to and from mainland China until February 9
  • KLM will suspend flights to Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen, and reduce its 11 weekly Shanghai flights to seven weekly flights, until February 29.
  • American Airlines has suspended flights from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai, and United has suspended flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
  • Finnair has suspended flights from Helsinki to Nanjing and Beijing Daxing until the end of March.

Cruise ship in Italy in lockdown over feared coronavirus case

AFP has also reported some 6 000 tourists were blocked on a cruise ship in Italy after the vast liner was placed on lockdown over two suspected cases of the deadly coronavirus. Samples from a Chinese couple were sent for testing after three doctors and a nurse boarded the Costa Crociere ship in the port of Civitavecchia to tend to a woman running a fever, the local health authorities said. Costa Crociere confirmed the ship, carrying some 7 000 people including the crew, was in lockdown. 


UPDATE: British Airways cancels flights to and from mainland China

The UK Foreign Office in London on Tuesday, 29 January warned British nationals against "all but essential travel" to mainland China due to a deadly novel coronavirus outbreak that has now killed at least 132 and infected more people than SARS on the mainland.

TravelMole has since reported that British Airways has suspended all flights to and from mainland China, the all but essential travel advise. 

At this point, South Africa has activated the necessary screening for the virus at all affected ports, with no cases reported locally. 

The UK ministry has advised against all but essential travel to mainland China, not including Hong Kong and Macau, while continuing to warn against all travel to the worst-affected Hubei Province. "If you're in this area and able to leave, you should do so," the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.

Indonesia's Lion Air, Southeast Asia's biggest carrier by fleet size, also announced it would halt all its flights to and from China. Dozens of flights would be affected on routes to 15 Chinese cities from February 1st, company spokesperson Danang Mandala Prihantoro told AFP. 


UPDATE: Hong Kong to stop all cross-border travel to mainland China 

CNN reports that Hong Kong will be stopping all cross-border travel to mainland China, while Japan is sending a plane to Wuhan, the very heart of the coronavirus outbreak, to evacuate Japanese nationals.

Currently, Wuhan is in almost complete lockdown due to strict transport restrictions in and out of the area.

CNN also reports that the Ivory Coast has tested the first person for the virus in Africa. 


UPDATE: Cruise ships cancel itineraries from Shanghai due to health risks

Due to safety risks, the Royal Caribbean has cancelled some itineraries from Shanghai, says Travel and Leisure. While MSC Cruises cancelled an upcoming January 28th sailing on the MSC Splendida.  

In a statement, MSC said “Due to urgent guidelines from the Chinese government to combat the spread of the coronavirus, MSC Cruises is required to cancel the upcoming cruise with MSC Splendida on Jan. 28," MSC announced. "Guests booked on this cruise have the option to receive a full refund of their cruise ticket and port charges, or book an alternative sailing with an equivalent price and receiving additional onboard credit – with an embarkation date before the end of the year.“At the time of writing, MSC Splendida is planned to remain in port for the duration of the cruise from Jan. 2 to Feb 1. We will continue to closely monitor the public health and safety situation in China and are consulting with international and local health authorities, as well as the Ministry of Transport of the People's Republic of China, and strictly follow their advice and recommendations. Guests and Travel Partners have been informed and will be kept abreast of any further changes as the situation evolves.” 

Vessels like Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced temperature screenings for passengers who leave from Chinese ports.


UPDATE: China urges citizens to avoid overseas travel

China on Tuesday urged its citizens to postpone trips abroad as the country expands a massive effort to contain a viral outbreak that has killed more than 100 people nationwide.

The recommendation to delay non-essential travel was issued "in order to protect the health and safety of Chinese and foreign people", the National Immigration Administration said in a statement.

"Reducing people's cross-border movement helps to prevent and control outbreaks," the agency added. 


China on Friday added a ninth city to a transport ban around the epicentre of a deadly virus, bringing the number affected by the shutdown to over 30 million as authorities scramble to control the disease.

Authorities in Jingzhou, located in Hubei province where the virus first emerged, said all rail services leaving the city would close from 0400 GMT, while public buses, passenger transport, tourism buses, ferries and other boats will temporarily stop operations as well.

Some 32 million people are now affected by travel restrictions around Hubei. 


Coronavirus reported in seven other countries

China has widened its lockdown in the Hubei province, pinpointed as the starting point of the Novel Coronavirus outbreak, with the death toll from the disease similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) climbing to 26.

Incidents of Novel Coronavirus has been reported in Taiwan, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and the United States. At least 10 cities in the central Chinese province, which has a population of 60 million, have travel restrictions in force.

Among the 278 cases confirmed in China, 258 cases were reported from Hubei Province, 14 from Guangdong Province, five from Beijing Municipality and one from Shanghai Municipality.

Of the 278 confirmed cases, 51 are severely illand 12 are in critical condition; six deaths have been reported from Wuhan City. Two cases were reported in Guangdong Province where the cases did not travel to Wuhan City, but had contact with other cases. 

No cases are present in South Africa or the continent of Africa as yet. Only South Africa's airports with direct flights from China, OR Tambo and Cape Town International, have started screening for the illness that spreads exactly like a common cold. 

READ: 5 things you need to know about the latest strain of coronavirus 

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) has taken the decision to not call it a global health emergency, or restrict travel or trade to the country, travellers are advised to ensure only necessary travel to the region. 

However, if you are planning to visit, SA's department of health advises you should "avoid contact with animals and practice good hand hygiene and cough etiquette in order to reduce the risk of infection with respiratory viruses. 

The following health tips are also  emphasised:

  • Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections
  • Practice frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment
  • Avoid visiting markets where live animals are sold.
  • Travellers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing and wash hands).
  • Health practitioners should provide to travellers information to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections, via travel health clinics, travel agencies, conveyance operators and at points of entry. Travellers should also be encouraged to self-report if they feel ill. 
  • In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness before, during or after travel, the traveller must seek medical attention and share travel history with their health care provider. 


SA airports begin surveillance for highly contagious Novel Coronavirus 

South Africa's major airports have enhanced surveillance for all travellers from Asia, especially China. 

OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airports are the only Ports of entry with direct flights from Asia. 

"Port health professionals routinely conducts temperature screening for all international travellers. However, due to the current risk of importation of inadvertent cases of 2019-nCoV from Wuhan City – China, Port Health authorities have enhanced surveillance," says the department of health. 

'No need to panic'

"South Africans are assured that measures are in place to detect, manage and contain any cases of Novel Coronavirus should it come to our shores. So far, there are not suspected cases reported."

"South Africa has developed and distributed clinical guidelines and case definitions to doctors and nurses in both the public and the private sectors. These include information on how to diagnosis and respond to a possible 2019-nCoV case.

Provinces have activated outbreak response teams and are on high alert to detect and manage inadvertent cases that may arrive in the country, says the department.

LATEST:No cases of coronavirus in SA - National Institute for Communicable Diseases

No restrictions on travel to China

Based on currently available information, the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not recommend any restriction of travel or trade. However, the Department advises travellers to Wuhan (China) should avoid contact with animals and are encouraged to practice good hand hygiene and cough etiquette in order to reduce the risk of infection with respiratory viruses. The following are emphasised:

  • Avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections
  • Practice frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment
  • Avoid visiting markets where live animals are sold.
  • Travellers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing and wash hands).
  • Health practitioners should provide to travellers information to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections, via travel health clinics, travel agencies, conveyance operators and at points of entry. Travellers should also be encouraged to self-report if they feel ill. 

In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness before, during or after travel, the traveller must seek medical attention and share travel history with their health care provider. 

Among the 278 cases confirmed in China, 258 cases were reported from Hubei Province, 14 from Guangdong Province, five from Beijing Municipality and one from Shanghai Municipality. Of the 278 confirmed cases, 51 are severely illand 12 are in critical condition; six deaths have been reported from Wuhan City. Two cases were reported in Guangdong Province where the cases did not travel to Wuhan City, but had contact with other cases. 

Since this novel coronavirus has only been recently identified, there is limited information regarding the mode/s of transmission, clinical features, and severity of disease at this stage. The main clinical signs and symptoms are fever and cough with a few patients presenting with difficulty in breathing and bilateral infiltrates on chest X-rays. Treatment is supportive as no specific therapy has been shown to be effective. At present, no vaccine is available for 2019-nCoV. 

WHO has developed and shared interim guidance for laboratory diagnosis, clinical management, infection prevention and control, home care for mild patients, risk communication and community engagement. Countries, including South Africa are using these guidance documents to revise national preparedness plans.

WHO is also working with networks of researchers and other experts to coordinate global work on surveillance, epidemiology, modelling, diagnostics, clinical care and treatment, and other ways to identify, manage the disease and limit onward transmission. 


Major Gulf airports joins Heathrow in screening passengers from China as SARS-like coronavirus threat escalates

Gulf airports, including one of the world's biggest aviation hubs, said on Thursday they would screen all passengers arriving from China amid the outbreak of a deadly virus.

The move goes further than other major transport hubs in Europe and the United States, which have limited their screening to passengers coming from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the scare.

Dubai airport authorities confirmed that "all passengers arriving on direct flights from the People's Republic of China must receive thermal screening at the gate upon arrival," a statement said.

China has locked down some 20 million people in Wuhan and the neighbouring city of Huanggang to rein in the coronavirus that has already claimed 17 lives and spread to a number of other countries.

Dubai International Airport in 2018 served over 89 million passengers, including more foreign passengers than any other airport worldwide for the fifth year in a row.

Dubai's government said on Thursday that some 989,000 Chinese tourists visited the glitzy emirate last year - a number expected to cross the one million mark in 2020.

Some 3.6 million Chinese transited through the emirate's main airport in 2019.

"The screening will be conducted on secured, closed gates at the airport by Dubai Health Authority and its Airport Medical Centre team," the statement said.

The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Like SARS, it can be passed among humans via the respiratory tract.

The UAE's Abu Dhabi International Airport, another major hub, announced on Twitter on Thursday that it had also begun screening passengers arriving from China, "in an effort to ensure the health and safety of all of our travellers".

Between them, the two Emirati hubs operate dozens of flights a week with Chinese cities.

China is the UAE's top trading partner and Abu Dhabi is among the 15 top crude oil suppliers to Beijing. Several hundred Chinese companies have offices in the UAE.

Saudi Arabia's pro-government Okaz newspaper reported that the kingdom would also conduct "health assessments" of passengers coming from China.

Shortly after, Kuwait and Bahrain followed suit.

Passengers "coming directly from China will be subject to checks as well as all those coming from countries determined by the health ministry if the virus spreads," a spokesman for Kuwait's Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Saad al-Otaibi, told AFP.

Bahrain's international airport said it would check all passengers arriving at Bahrain International Airport "as a precaution to detect the 'Corona' virus present in China".

The UAE's health ministry said Wednesday that the Gulf state with a population of 10 million, about 90 percent of them foreigners, was free of the coronavirus, and that it had taken sufficient measures to face the disease.

"The health situation poses no grounds for concern and the ministry is closely following up on the situation to ensure the health and safety of everyone," it said. 


Heathrow to screen passengers for coronavirus

Heathrow has stepped up testing and surveillance for coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, China earlier in December. 

All flights from this city will now arrive at an isolated region of Terminal 4, and are to be met by health official who will conduct the screening. 

China's National Health Commission said on Wednesday that nine people had died from a new coronavirus and 440 people across 13 Chinese provinces had been confirmed to  be infected amid evidence of respiratory transmission from patient to patient.

The announcement came as the United States and Taiwan confirmed their first cases of the virus and airports around the world stepped up medical screening of travellers from affected areas. Click here to see more on Symptoms and treatment of coronasvirus.

READ: Scientists confirm that China’s new SARS-like virus can spread from human to human

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