British citizens are being warned to avoid travelling to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, as airports in Britain have ramped up health screenings to prevent a possible outbreak in the United Kingdom.
The deadly outbreak of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus, which has killed 17 people and has possibly infected thousands, with cases being reported in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and the United States, has prompted the UK Foreign Office to ramp up security measures.
On its website, the Foreign Office said that although there are currently no confirmed cases of the virus in the UK, it will increase health screenings at London’s Heathrow Airport, which receives three direct flights from Wuhan every week.
“In light of the latest medical information, including reports of some person-to-person transmission, and the Chinese authorities’ own advice, we are now advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan”, said a Foreign Office spokesperson.
Underscoring the problem of preventing the spread of the virus, Prof Neil Ferguson, Director of the Medical Research Council’s Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, said that it will be difficult for authorities to spot those infected as there is a five day incubation period in which those affected by the disease will display no symptoms.
“This sort of measure of trying to identify people who are sick coming off a plane will only identify, if you’re lucky, people who will have fever coming off a plane”, told The Telegraph.
“If somebody was infected two days before they travelled, they will arrive without any symptoms at all. It’s understandable countries want to try and reduce the threat by various measures at the border. But the border will still be porous”, Ferguson warned.
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In response to the rising epidemic, the Chinese government has quarantined Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, shutting down airports and train stations for outbound passengers as well as suspending local transport services. Citizens and government employees are now required to wear face masks, as panic has spread throughout the city.
“When I saw the news when I woke up, I felt like I was going to go crazy. This is a little too late now. The government’s measures are not enough”, a Wuhan primary school teacher told The Guardian.
“Infected people could be right beside you and you wouldn’t know. That is what is scarier”, she added.
The deadly virus was first discovered in humans in December, however, was only identified as a coronavirus this month. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has said that the virus originated in a seafood market that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals”. The market has since been shut down, according to the BBC.
The disease which affects the respiratory systems of those affected is a similar strain to the SARS virus that killed nearly 800 people in the early 2000s.
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