Travellers urged to reconsider visits to China following coronavirus outbreak

Two Chinese cities are on lockdown and international airports are monitoring visitors in a bid to contain the highly infectious coronavirus.

Two Chinese cities are on lockdown and international airports are monitoring visitors in a bid to contain the highly infectious Coronavirus.
A recent outbreak of an infectious respiratory virus called coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has claimed the lives of 17 people in China and infected more than 500 people globally to date. [As of 6 February, the death toll has risen to 563 people and more than 28,000 people worldwide have caught the virus.] The original outbreak is believed to have started on 31 December 2019, when the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) China office was informed of patients infected with pneumonia-like symptoms in Wuhan, China. Evidence suggests that the initial cluster of cases was related to exposure in a live animal and seafood market.

International spread in at least eight countries

WHO has since confirmed evidence of human-to-human transmission of 2019-nCoV and global news outlets have reported cases in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and the US.Dr Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer for Healix International says, “Wuhan is a huge city with a same size population as New York, and is right in the centre of the world’s most populous country.“The annual Lunar New Year (‘humanity’s largest migration’) is fast approaching which marks a time when hundreds of millions of people travel around the country and into the country. More importantly, they will then travel back to their resident countries. We would expect a leap in cases as the virus spreads further around China and significant international spread.”

Efforts to contain the virus

On 22 January, WHO’s director general, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, convened with the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations to ascertain whether the 2019-nCoV outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Meanwhile, authorities around the world have announced screening measures for passengers from China.Dr Hyzler adds, “From a positive viewpoint, the Chinese authorities have been visibly much more open than before in distributing information, they have identified the virus very quickly and communicated the gene sequencing with the WHO, which is coordinating global efforts to control the spread... There is no cure for these types of viruses but infection in vulnerable people – the elderly, young children, those with ongoing illnesses and reduced immunity – must be identified early so that they can be given supportive treatment to help them through the illness.”Wuhan and neighbouring city Huanggang are on ‘lockdown’ with public transport suspended and people being told not to leave. Other cities are also taking steps to restrict movement and contact, such as cancelling major public events.Sarah Dennis, head of international for Towergate Health & Protection says, "As with any potential health outbreak or emergency, we would urge employers to seek advice from reputable sources such as the WHO, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), their healthcare provider or specialist adviser. Such organisations will be monitoring the situation and have the most up-to-date advice."

Advice for international travellers

Symptoms of 2019-nCoV include fever, difficulty breathing and a cough. Healix International offers the following advice for people travelling to and from affected areas.Precautions for travellers travelling to or from Wuhan, China:
  • Avoid contact with animals (alive or dead), animal markets, and products that come from animals such as uncooked meat or skins and hides of animals.
  • Avoid contact with sick people, especially if they appear feverish or have respiratory symptoms such as coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water.
If you feel unwell within 14 days of returning from the region you should:
  • Seek urgent medical care but make sure that you phone ahead to warn of your symptoms and travel history.
  • Stay home, apart from seeking medical care, and avoid contact with others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue/Kleenex when coughing or sneezing – make sure you dispose of the tissue carefully.

Latest update

Chinese authorities broaden regional lock-downs as case numbers continue to rise in China and the rest of the world.

The outbreak has been caused by a ‘coronavirus’, thought to have jumped from an unknown animal source to humans in Wuhan’s Huanan South China Seafood Market.

While cases have been confirmed in at least 10 countries to date, WHO, which convened on Wednesday to decide whether to escalate this outbreak, concluded it is "too early” to declare a PHEIC.

In China, major celebrations have been cancelled by authorities, while regional lock-downs have been broadened with transport hubs closed and road-blocks in place to prevent the movement of people ahead of the Lunar New Year. A shortage of supplies and overstretched hospitals are causing panic among the 33 million people in the locked-down area.

If you or any of your employees are currently operating in the area, Healix International has issued a detailed report of the situation containing their assessment and latest advice.

Read more news and features about China

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory