China coronavirus: Arrivals to UK from Wuhan ‘received minimal screening’ despite outbreak fears

Zoe Tidman
The final flight from Wuhan to Heathrow arrived on Wednesday evening after the Chinese city went into lockdown: EPA

A British man has said he was surprised there were not more checks at Heathrow airport for those travelling from the Chinese city at the heart of a deadly virus outbreak.

Thomas Crosby said passengers were handed leaflets telling them to call health professionals if they develop symptoms of a new coronavirus that has killed at least 17 people in China. However, he claimed he was not screened on landing.

“I haven’t had my temperature checked,” Mr Crosby told the BBC while still at the airport. “I wasn’t questioned at passport control.”

The passenger said after leaving Wuhan, which has gone into lockdown after with a new strain of deadly pneumonia has infected hundreds of poeple, he “would expect more than what happened” on arriving in the UK.

Public Health England (PHE) said on Wednesday: “From today, enhanced monitoring will be in place from all direct flights from Wuhan to the UK.”

The Department of Health said health officials “will check for visible symptoms of coronavirus and provide information about symptoms, and what to do if they become ill, to all passengers”.

Leaflets would also be available offering advice on what to do if feeling ill, and plans were in place to create a separate area for passengers arriving at Heathrow on a direct flight from Wuhan — which has now effectively been placed in quarantine.

Dr Nick Phin, the deputy director of the National Infection Service at PHE said:

“This is a new and rapidly evolving situation where information on cases and the virus is being gathered and assessed daily. Based on the available evidence, the current risk to the UK is considered low.

“We are working with the WHO and other international partners, have issued advice to the NHS and are keeping the situation under constant review.”

Some countries have started screening travellers coming from the city at the epicentre of the outbreak, although people who are infected typically do not show any signs of symptoms for five days.

A PHE spokesperson said: “Most people who develop symptoms will get them after leaving the airport and so our priority is providing UK residents and travellers with the latest information to make sure they know what to do if they experience symptoms.

“The NHS and PHE have an established plan to respond to someone who becomes unwell.”

Three flights a week usually arrive at Heathrow from Wuhan, central China. The London airport declined to comment on the measures in place for Wuhan arrivals.

The Chinese city, which has a population of around 11 million, went into lockdown on Thursday morning, with all outgoing flights suspended, according to state media.

Public transport has also been shut down in Wuhan, as well as in two other Chinese cities on Thursday.

More than 500 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed so far, with patients confirmed elsewhere in China, Japan, Thailand and Seattle, Washington.

“We have been closely monitoring the situation in Wuhan and have put in place proportionate, precautionary measures,” he told parliament on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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