DEADLY VIRUS

WHO repatriation guidelines to fight coronavirus spread

In Summary

• On Tuesday, WHO published key considerations for repatriation and quarantine of travellers in relation to the outbreak.

• The duration of quarantine is up to 14 days (corresponding with the known incubation period of the virus, according to existing information), and may be extended due to a delayed exposure.

OUTBREAK: Medical staff carry a box at Jinyintan hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China Image: /REUTERS
OUTBREAK: Medical staff carry a box at Jinyintan hospital, where the patients with pneumonia caused by the new strain of coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China Image: /REUTERS

The World Health Organization has published guidelines for countries seeking to repatriate their nationals from Wuhan, China.

Wuhan in Hubei province has been the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

Media reports indicate that 242 deaths from the new coronavirus had been recorded in Hubei by Wednesday. This raises the death toll to 1,350. Almost 60,000 infections have been reported.

 
 

On Tuesday, WHO published key considerations for repatriation and quarantine of travellers in relation to the outbreak.

The duration of quarantine is up to 14 days (corresponding with the known incubation period of the virus, according to existing information), and may be extended due to a delayed exposure.

WHO said advanced bilateral communication, coordination, and planning with the responsible authorities must be done before departure.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared the outbreak of the virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020.

This was based on the advice of the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations ( 2005 ).

However, WHO did not recommend any travel or trade restrictions, based on the current information available.

On January 31, Kenya Airways suspended its flights to and from Guangzhou, China, following the outbreak.

 

A few days ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the decision to suspend direct flights to China should not be taken as a political decision.

 

He said the step was among measures put in place by the government to protect its citizens. “We have stopped our flight into Chinese cities. All I can say is that there is no politics here. We don’t have the capacity to build a hospital in seven days,” Uhuru said at the Atlantic Council Forum in Washington DC, US.

WHO has advised countries to be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation, case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of the virus.

The health organisation said aircraft should be properly staffed with sufficient medical personnel to accommodate the number of nationals anticipated.

WHO said it is advisable to delay travel of people suspected of having contacted the virus.

“If suspected cases are detected on the aircraft, the cabin crew should inform and seek advice from a ground-based medical service provider at the point of entry of arrival through the control tower. In cases of severe illness, the pilot in command may consider diversion for the unwell passenger to the nearest point of entry to receive the required treatment,” WHO said.

It said personal protective equipment should be used when dealing with symptomatic patients such as medical or surgical mask, hand hygiene and gloves. “In all cases, the adjacent seat(s) of the patient should be left unoccupied, if feasible.”

Passengers seated in close vicinity should have their information on itinerary and contacts recorded for follow up using a Passenger Locator Form.

This information may be collected on a voluntary basis for the remaining passengers.

WHO said a patient in the aircraft should adhere to respiratory/cough etiquette either by wearing a medical or surgical mask or by using disposable tissue.

If the patient cannot tolerate a mask, healthy travellers adjacent to the ill traveller may be offered masks. WHO said hand washing or hand rub is a must.

The organisation said temperature screening alone may not be very effective.

If temperature screening is implemented, it should be accompanied by health messages, primary questionnaires, data collection and analysis.

Travellers should be provided with adequate food and water, appropriate accommodation including sleeping arrangements and clothing, protection for baggage and other possessions, and appropriate medical treatment.

Appropriate communication channels must be established to avoid panic and to provide appropriate health messaging so those quarantined can seek timely care.

Travellers should be treated with respect for their dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms and minimize any discomfort or distress associated with such measures.