The outbreak of the coronavirus in China has gripped news headlines as governments, multi-national corporations and the public have been affected by what reporters have called a ‘pandemic’. But how serious is this new virus, and should you change your travel plans to the United Kingdom in response?
According to Australian media, the coronavirus is part of a group of viruses that may cause diseases ranging from the common cold to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This strain, named COVID-19 on 11 February 2020, has reportedly never been seen before, with Chinese authorities identifying Wuhan in China’s Hubei province as the origin of virus’s outbreak.
So far, the new coronavirus has led to more than 89,000 illnesses and 3,000 deaths worldwide. However, those numbers are nothing compared with the flu, also called influenza. In the United States of America alone, the flu has caused an estimated 32 million illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
From these numbers it’s clear that the media have blown the health risks of contracting the virus out of proportion. However, if you have a compromised immune system, it may be advisable to take precautions.
Travelling to the UK
The UK has been listed as a country with infections by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. However, at the time of publishing this article there have only been approximately 40 infections recorded.
“We have seen no mention of South Africans travelling to the UK being an issue – to date there has been zero mention of the UK being an undesirable travel destination as a result of the coronavirus,” said Ryan Rennison, managing director of UK immigration firm, Move Up.
“The UK government has a reputation for managing global and terror threats well, so we are confident that South Africans should be able to travel safely to and from the region without cancelling their plans,” he added.
Staying in the UK After Travelling Through High-Risk Nations
The UK government has recommended that travellers stay indoors and avoid contact with other people immediately if they have travelled to the UK from:
- Hubei province in China in the last 14 days, even if you do not have symptoms
- Iran; lockdown areas in northern Italy or special care zones in South Korea since 19 February, even if you do not have symptoms
- Other parts of mainland China or South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan or Thailand in the last 14 days and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild)
- Other parts of northern Italy (anywhere north of Pisa, Florence and Rimini), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar or Vietnam since 19 February and have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath (even if your symptoms are mild)
In the Event of Exposure to the Coronavirus in the UK
The UK government has given recommendations for UK-based applicants not to go to local GP, pharmacy or hospital if demonstrating contamination symptoms. Rather, possibly infected individuals are recommended to make use of the NHS dedicated assistance facility.
Click or tap here for further information about UK-based assistance.
Travelling Back to South Africa
To date, only three cases of infection have been officially recorded in Africa, one in Egypt, one in Algeria and one in Nigeria, with no deaths.
Any passenger found to be ill or exhibiting fever symptoms on arrival will be reviewed at airport clinics. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirms that South African hospitals are prepared to deal with any corona-related problems and laboratories have facilities in place to test for the respiratory disease.
With South African health authorities and hospitals on high alert; temperature screening remains in place at most international airports in South Africa. This is a routine precaution that was instituted at airports in 2010. OR Tambo Port Health Services has implemented additional screening measures since last month.
Port Health officials will conduct thermal screening onboard the flights. Passengers will be asked to remain seated until they are advised by Port Health officials that they can disembark.
Based on the information available, additional screening measures will be concentrated on the following flights:
- Cathay Pacific
- Singapore Airlines
- Hong Kong
For all other international flights, Port Health officials will liaise with cabin crew to ascertain whether there are health risks onboard.
The UK government have raised no concerns relating to the coronavirus in terms of travels from the UK to South Africa. In light of this, SA-bound travel poses no immediate risk, more so as there are no reported coronavirus infections in South Africa.
“The UK government has, however, recently updated their foreign travel advice regarding the coronavirus for the following countries: Italy, Spain, Thailand, Singapore, China, UAE, Vietnam, USA, India, NZ, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Mexico,” adds Rennison.
Emergency Measures in Place in SA
The South African Health Department has activated an emergency operations centre to deal with the global outbreak of the coronavirus. Activation of the operations centre on South African shores means that there are dedicated staff working exclusively on the coronavirus.
In addition to the operations centre, the department announced the following hospitals as centres for isolation and treatment of people infected with Coronavirus:
- Polokwane Hospital in Limpopo
- Rob Ferreira Hospital in Mpumalanga
- Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Steve Biko Hospital and Tembisa Hospitals in Gauteng
- Greys Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal
- Klerksdorp Hospital in the North West
- Kimberley Hospital in the Northern Cape
- Pelonomi Hospital in the Free State
- Livingstone Hospital in the Eastern Cape
- Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape