Europe braces for coronavirus

European health authorities are preparing to deal with the arrival of infected people from China as the coronavirus spreads beyond Chinese borders.
credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

27 Jan 2020

So far, citizens in several European countries have been tested for coronavirus, the deadly respiratory illness that first broke out in China and is rapidly spreading.

It has been reported that there are 14 suspected cases in the UK, one in Germany and four in Austria. French health minister Agnès Buzyn on Friday said that three cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in France - one in Bordeaux and two in Paris.

Speaking after the revelations, she said, “You have to treat an epidemic like you treat a fire: you need to locate the source very quickly.”


In Belgium, health minister Maggie De Block admitted there remains “a real chance” infections could arise in the country.

The spread of the virus has been likened to the SARS outbreak in China several years ago. At the time China was severely criticised for withholding information about the disease which allowed it to spread widely but De Block says, “China is this time being very transparent in providing information.”

Three airports in the European Union have direct flight connections to Wuhan, while there are indirect flight connections to other European hubs.

The virus has also been detected in the US, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Nepal.

“You have to treat an epidemic like you treat a fire: you need to locate the source very quickly” Agnès Buzyn, French health minister

The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), meanwhile, has published a fresh risk assessment on the new coronavirus and the risk to European travellers to China and Wuhan.

The report warns “the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations at the end of January will cause an increased travel volume to/from China and within China, hence increasing the likelihood of arrival in the EU of possible cases."

Pasi Penttinen, an expert in immunisation at the centre, said, “We are in peak Influenza season and this outbreak has come at the worst possible time for both Wuhan and for Europe. We are racing against the clock to be prepared for an eventual detection of a case coming in from Wuhan.”

In a statement Sunday, Josep Jansa, ECDC Principal Expert for Emergency Preparedness and Response, said, “Since the original source remains unknown and human-to-human transmission has been documented, further cases and deaths are expected.”

Last Wednesday, the European Commission said it is following the outbreak “extremely closely” and was “in the process of coordinating all measures that may be necessary at the EU level.”

Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has, so far, decided not to declare the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak a global emergency but its experts have warned the public not to underestimate the severity of the epidemic.

The youngest patient is a 9-month-old girl in Beijing. China has also reported five cases in Hong Kong and two in Macao.

Further concern has been voiced by China’s near neighbour, Taiwan.

A source at the Taipei Representation Office to the EU and Belgium told this website, “This outbreak of deadly new coronavirus in Wuhan is a serious threat to Taiwan, which of course continues to be excluded from the WHO technical meetings due to China's objection.”

“We strongly suggest the EU should take extreme caution and strengthen its border control to prevent the spread of this horrible epidemic.”

“The epidemic of the virus is quickly spreading out of China, even France has confirmed three positive cases. Taiwan is no exception either,” said the Brussels-based official.

Beijing has warned that the spread of coronavirus is expected to accelerate, heightening concerns about an outbreak that has killed at least 80 people in China and reached a dozen other countries.

Ma Xiaowei, China’s health commission minister, revealed on Sunday that the virus was infectious during its incubation period of between one and 14 days even though people may show no symptoms.

This, he said, makes the latest outbreak different from SARS, another strain of the coronavirus which originated in China and killed almost 800 people in 2002-03, which was not contagious in its incubation period.

The comments came as the death toll continued to rise. China confirmed on Monday that 80 people had died from the respiratory disease, up from 56 a day earlier, while 2,744 people were infected.

Coronaviruses belong to a family known as coronaviridae and under an electron microscope they look like spiked rings. They are named for these spikes, which form a halo around their viral envelope.

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