Asian airports and health authorities are on high alert as the number of people infected with a new strain of coronavirus grows in China, spreading beyond ground zero in Wuhan to other major Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong as well as other countries.
According to a BBC report, four cases have been confirmed abroad – two in Thailand, one in Japan and one in South Korea – all of them involving people who are either from Wuhan or have visited the city.
The World Health Organization has labelled the new strain, 2019-nCoV, and advised that signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
With the infections occurring close to the Chinese New Year period, a time when the Chinese travel in massive numbers within China and beyond its borders for holidays, immigration and health authorities in destinations popular with the Chinese are taking precautionary measures.
All airports with direct flights from China, including Soekarno Hatta International Airport and Halim Perdanakusuma International Airport, have activated thermal scanners. The government has provided 135 thermal scanners at entry points across Indonesia.
All airlines serving direct or transit flights from China and Hong Kong are advised to immediately provide health documents in the form of general declarations as well as passenger manifests to the Indonesian Health Ministry.
Passengers coming from countries with reported cases will be screened by thermal scanner as well as syndromic surveillance.
The Health Ministry has directed the use of thermal scanners at Malaysian airports and other international entry points.
Malaysia Airlines is abiding by aviation health procedures placed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) when interacting with a potentially infectious traveller. The airline is implementing certain control measures such as pre-departure screening for travellers who are unwell and providing medical communicable disease kit in every aircraft.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) will expand temperature screening at Changi Airport and issue Health Advisory Notices for all inbound travellers on flights arriving from China from January 22, 2020.
Individuals with pneumonia and travel history to Wuhan within 14 days before onset of symptoms will be isolated in hospital as a precautionary measure to prevent transmission, and investigated.
These measures follow other precautionary measures that were put in place since the start of January 2020. From the evening of January 3, temperature screening has been implemented at Changi Airport for inbound travellers arriving on flights from Wuhan, and suspect cases have been referred to hospitals for further assessment. Health Advisory Posters have also been installed at Changi Airport to advise all travellers on the precautionary measures to take when travelling to or arriving from Wuhan.
Thailand, which receives an average of 10 direct flights daily from Wuhan, China, via Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Krabi, has implemented strict monitoring procedures.
Flights direct from Wuhan are being disembarked at specific ramps equipped with disease control checkpoints at the six airports operated by Thailand’s AOT. Additionally, all passengers arriving from south-east China must pass thermal scanning pre-immigration.
Measures are in place to screen passengers with fevers including all accompanying passengers on the same flight; passengers arriving from risk areas presenting with fever will be immediately taken via ambulance to the hospital and quarantined. AOT has stated its bathrooms will also be cleaned more frequently.
Meanwhile, destination specialists with a focus on the Chinese market told TTG Asia they will remain welcoming to their Chinese guests who are due to arrive over the festive period, starting this Friday.
Eddy Sunyoto, owner of Terimakasih Indonesia Tour, trusts the immigration officers to be Indonesia’s first line of defence, as they will “reject infected passengers”.
Zhang Lei, CEO of Fun Doing International, a Phuket-based company that is one of the largest providers of Thai tour packages to Chinese OTAs and travel agencies, said: “The impact of the coronavirus is not significant at present; I’m not worried. My past experience dealing with outbreaks and their impact on the travel industry taught me that epidemics like SARS will always pass. If it is very serious, it will affect all industries in the short term, but just like in any cycle, there will always be valleys and peaks.”
Reporting done by Mimi Hudoyo, S Puvaneswary, Pamela Chow and Anne Somanas