News of Australasia's first suspected case of the new Coronavirus strain has brought fresh travel warnings for visitors to mainland China.
Last night the Australia PM announced that a Brisbane man had been put into isolation with symptoms of the respiratory illness, following a trip to the Chinese province of Hubei.
Scott Morrison announced that the Australian government was issuing a "level 2" travel warning for the city of Wuhan and Hubei, telling travellers to "exercise a high degree of caution" with regards to the virus.
Following the news, this morning New Zealand's MFAT issued an advisory via its SafeTravel.govt.nz website advising travellers of the outbreak and symptoms of the Novel Coronavirus in Wuhan.
However as of 8am this morning, MFAT stopped short of updating the threat level for New Zealand citizens in China. Current advisory tells travellers to "exercise normal safety and security precautions" with no local advisory specific to Hubei.
Yesterday the Director of Public Health, Dr Caroline McElnay told the Herald that the "Ministry of Health is aware of a cluster of pneumonia cases caused by a novel coronavirus being reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province including individual cases exported from Wuhan to other countries."
However Dr McElnay insisted that unlike Australia there "are no direct flights between Wuhan and New Zealand."
While other countries including the United States have introduced screening at International airports there are currently no such plans to do so at New Zealand's borders.
"In general, entry screening is not considered an effective measure for detecting incoming travellers with infectious diseases, especially as the symptoms of this disease are very common and the timeline coincides with the increased activity of seasonal influenza in Europe," said McElnay. However she said the ministry would continue to monitor developments in the area.
A spokesperson for Auckland airport told the Herald that it had received an advisory from the Ministry of Health but that "there are no travel restrictions in place."
In a statement the airport said it "encourages any travellers experiencing symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their healthcare provider," and that further information on the Coronavirus outbreak is available via the Ministry of Health.
Air travel through China is expected to spike this week ahead of celebrations for Chinese New Year on Saturday. Passengers returning from festivities in Wuhan are a source of concern for international health boards and transport networks.
Chinese president Xi Jinping said it was "extremely crucial" to contain the virus which has infected 217 people across the country and at least three outside of China.
Novel Coronavirus: What Kiwi travellers should know
Due to the limited effectiveness of screening the World Health Organisation has advised travellers to be aware of their own health and take responsibility to report flu-like illnesses to customs and border officials.
The MFAT published a list of symptoms on its website for air passengers to be aware of:
"Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties."
While animals are suspected to be the source of the new virus evidence points to humans also as carriers for the disease.
While it is unclear exactly how the disease is passed on, there are cases of Novel Coronavirus passing from person to person.
The WHO's recommends travellers follow a few basic principles to reduce the risk of spreading the disease:
- Avoid close contact with people suffering acute respiratory infections
- Frequently wash hands, especially after contact with ill people or their environment
- Avoid close contact with sick live farm animals ore wild animals
- People should practice "cough etiquette" (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes worth disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands)
In New Zealand travellers who become sick within a month of their arrival are encouraged to seek medical advice on the free contact Healthline 0800 611 116 or from a doctor.
"It is important to mention recent travel to Wuhan and any known contact with someone with severe acute respiratory illness who has been in Wuhan," says the Ministry's advice.
I'm not feeling well, should I wear a face mask?
If you have not recently travelled within the affected area of Wuhan, flu like symptoms or colds should not be a great concern. However, travel hygiene should be observed in public places.
The Centre for Disease Control issued separate set of advice for travellers who may have been exposed to the virus in Wuhan.
If you have travelled to Hubei and feel flu-like symptoms or difficulty breathing the CDC advises travellers to:
- Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor's office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
- Avoid contact with others.
- Not travel while sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available.
The CDC also advised health providers to get suspected carriers "to wear a surgical mask as soon as they are identified."