PAHO epidemiological alert: novel coronavirus (nCoV)

In light of this situation, PAHO/WHO encourages Member States to strengthen surveillance activities to detect any unusual respiratory health event. Health professionals should be informed about the possibility of the occurrence of infection caused by this virus and the actions to be implemented in case of a suspected case.

International travellers

On 10 January 2020, WHO defined Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China as a nCoV affected area, and currently, only a greater state of alert in the community of health professionals is warranted about patients presenting with acute respiratory syndrome and having: (i) a history of travel specifically to the city of Wuhan, and (ii) with a possible link to the marine products market in that city, or contact with patients with a link to the marine products market. While laboratory tests to identify nCoV infection would be warranted for such patients, in all other patients, including those with a history of travel to any place in China outside the city of Wuhan, influenza or other respiratory pathogens must first be ruled out (see laboratory recommendations).

Health practitioners and public health authorities should provide travellers, who arrive and leave the country, with information to promote and facilitate seeking medical attention in the event of an illness before, during, or after an international trip.

Promote, among travellers arriving and leaving the country, good practices and behaviour to reduce the overall risk of acute respiratory infections during travel, such as following cough etiquette and frequent handwashing (see infection prevention and control).

For travellers to the city of Wuhan, promote avoiding close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections, as well as avoiding places where farm or wild animals are present, alive or dead.

Identify and mobilize, in a coordinated manner, both the public sector actors (for example, those that operate at points of entry, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and private sector entities (for example, tourism operators, transportation operators, operators of entry points, companies that carry out commercial activities with the City of Wuhan and that involve trips to those cities, or stationing of staff there).

Take the opportunity to review in a coordinated manner with the public and private sector entities that operate at entry points, and the health sector entities in whose jurisdictions the entry points are located, the procedures for handling acute public health events, and the availability of personal protection equipment.

Also taking into account the celebrations of the Chinese New Year, 25 January 2020, which, in addition to significant internal movement within China, could also imply variations in the flow of international travellers to/from China, identify the corresponding sources (for example, National Authority of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Tourism) and proceed with the historical analysis of the flows of travellers and means of transport coming from the city of Wuhan. While the accuracy of this exercise could be limited, it is considered that access, management, and familiarization with this type of data and information are critical for the evaluation of any type of public health risk.

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