Chinese authorities have stepped up their efforts to prevent the spread of a respiratory disease linked to a newly discovered
coronavirus, as reports suggest the virus has spread to neighbouring countries.
Since Wednesday, passengers at Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan – the central Chinese city where the outbreak began – have been required to pass through electronic temperature sensors at each of its exits. Any that are found to have a body temperature of more than 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) are then required to undergo a manual check and if the high temperature is confirmed, spend a period of time in a quarantine facility.
An internal notice by the airport, which was shared on social media, advised airlines to refund passengers or allow them to change their tickets if they were affected by the new checks.
Meanwhile, authorities in Wuhan, which has recorded 41 infections and one fatality, said they had also installed body temperature sensors at three key railway stations in the city.
The new measures come as Japan’s health ministry confirmed on Thursday that a Chinese man living in Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo, had contracted the virus.
Aged in his 30s, the man is said to have travelled to Wuhan earlier in the month, where he developed a fever. On his return to Japan he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia but was discharged five days later when his condition improved.
The case is the second to be confirmed outside China, after Thai authorities reported on Monday that a woman from Wuhan was receiving treatment in a hospital in Nonthaburi, just north of Bangkok. She was admitted to hospital three days after developing a fever, sore throat and a headache.
Meanwhile, Vietnam’s health ministry said on Thursday that two Chinese tourists – a 22-year-old man and a three-year-old boy – had been placed in isolation after showing fever-like symptoms on their arrival in the country.
Blood samples from the two patients, who flew into Da Nang on Tuesday as part of the same tour group, were being tested to determine the cause of the fever, it said.
While Chinese officials have found no clear evidence to suggest human-to-human transmission of the virus, it has also not been ruled out.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Japanese officials reported that although the infected man in Kanagawa had travelled to Wuhan, he had not visited the Huanan seafood market, which is thought to be the epicentre of the outbreak.
The market also sold live animals such as poultry, bats and marmots, along with wildlife parts, prompting concerns that the infectious respiratory pathogen emerged from an as-yet-unidentified animal reservoir.
The outbreak has also raised concerns that the coronavirus could spread from Wuhan, a major transport hub, to other cities during the Lunar New Year travel season, which is now under way.
The virus has captured worldwide attention because of similarities with the one that caused the 2002-03 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which infected more than 8,000 people globally and killed more than 600 in mainland China and Hong Kong.
Other Asian countries have raised the alert with stricter checks on passengers at airports and other transit points since the outbreak, which was identified on January 9 as a new strain of coronavirus, since named 2019-nCoV by the WHO.
On Thursday, the WHO said it was working closely with officials in China, Japan and Thailand, and encouraged all countries to be vigilant.
“It is not surprising that there are cases outside of the People’s Republic of China and it is possible that there will be cases in other countries in the future,” a WHO spokeswoman said.
On Wednesday, the US state department issued a health alert about Wuhan, urging people travelling in the region to avoid contact with animals, animal markets or animal products, among other precautions.
On Thursday, officials from the Centres for Disease Control in Taiwan said they had put Wuhan on a higher level of travel alert as health authorities in the mainland city had been unable to rule out the possibility of human transmission.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection said that as well as reporting cases of people suspected of developing respiratory symptoms after visiting Wuhan, medical workers should flag up patients who had visited a hospital in mainland China or had close contact with someone confirmed to have been infected with the new virus.