People arriving at Heathrow from the Chinese city hit by a coronavirus outbreak will enter through a separate area in an attempt to prevent the virus from reaching the UK, the transport secretary has said.
Public Health England is implementing a series of precautionary measures, said Grant Shapps. “There have been some announcements this morning about flights that come direct from the affected region to Heathrow with some additional measures there,” he told Sky News.
“At the moment Public Health England have moved this from ‘very low’ to ‘low’ but obviously we want to stay ahead of the issue so we are keeping a very close eye on it.
“Initially this is to ensure that when flights come in directly into Heathrow there is a separate area for people to arrive in.”
Later on Wednesday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, is expected to provide further details of a series of “port measures” that are also likely to include a health team to meet direct flights from the city of Wuhan in the isolated area of Heathrow’s Terminal 4, and on-flight announcements and leaflets encouraging anyone feeling ill to report to the health team.
There are three direct flights a week from Wuhan to Heathrow.
The UK safety measures come as the World Health Organization is expected to declare an international public health emergency over the virus – as it did with swine flu and Ebola.
Nine people have died and hundreds have been infected with the virus, which is understood to have originated in Wuhan in eastern China. Most cases have been in Wuhan but the virus has also spread to other Chinese cities, and has also been detected in countries including the US, Japan and South Korea.
Ahead of the lunar new year on Saturday 25 January, Chinese authorities have advised against travel into and out of Wuhan, adding that the country is now at the “most critical stage” of prevention and control.
The UK Foreign Office has updated its advice for Britons travelling to China, warning the virus had spread to other areas outside the Hubei province. The illness comes from a new coronavirus, not previously identified in humans, that Chinese health officials said had spread from human to human and may be mutating.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).