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Asia ramps up defence against Wuhan virus

2020-01-21 HKT 15:46
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  • Asia ramps up defence against Wuhan virus
Asia stepped up its defences on Tuesday against a new Sars-like virus, introducing mandatory screenings at airports of arrivals from high-risk areas of China as authorities move to head off a billowing regional health crisis.

From Bangkok to Hong Kong and Seoul to Sydney, authorities have gone onto high-alert over the new coronavirus, following China's confirmation of the first case of human-to-human transmission of the deadly illness.

Four people have died in China while scores more have been infected with the virus. Cases have been detected in Thailand, Japan and South Korea as the World Health Organization said it would meet to discuss declaring a global public health emergency over the outbreak.

Thai authorities have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving from high-risk areas of China at its airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi.

Those passengers will be screened "without exemption", health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a statement, adding if they exhibit signs of fever they will be quarantined for 24 hours for monitoring.

A quarter of all international flights from Wuhan – the epicentre of the deadly virus – arrive in Thailand.

Around 1,300 passengers are expected each day from Wuhan over Chinese New Year, which starts this weekend. Thailand is desperate to avoid a damaging outbreak during peak tourist season.

Two Chinese arrivals in Thailand have been found with the new strain of the virus –one of whom has since been discharged from hospital and has returned to China.

Taiwan meanwhile went onto its second-highest alert level for those travelling to and from Wuhan, advising visitors to avoid visiting any live poultry markets while screening has been stepped up at airports.

China's vast land borders with its neighbours have also come under scrutiny. Vietnam's health ministry has ordered more border checks as "the risks of infection are high" given the daily cross-border flow of goods and people.

As fears over the reach of the outbreak mount, Australian health officials said they have restricted a man to his home after he returned from Wuhan showing symptoms of the virus – the country's first suspected case.

The Philippines was also probing on Tuesday its potential first case of the Sars-like virus. Health authorities said a five-year-old child arrived in the Philippines on January 12 from Wuhan, and has been hospitalised since with flu symptoms.

While the child tested positive for a virus, authorities in Manila say they are not sure if it is the same one that has killed four people in China and sickened people in three other Asian countries.

Samples from the child have been sent to a lab in Australia for further testing and authorities are awaiting the results, officials said. (AFP)