US to screen airline passengers from China for new illness

NEW YORK (AP) — Three United States (US) airports will screen passengers arriving from central China for a new virus that has sickened dozens, killed two and prompted worries about an international outbreak, health officials said on Friday.

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials said they will begin taking temperatures and asking about symptoms of passengers at three US airports who travelled from the outbreak city of Wuhan.

Doctors began seeing a new type of viral pneumonia — fever, cough, difficulty breathing — in people who worked at or visited a food market in the suburbs of Wuhan late last month.

More than 45 cases of the newly identified coronavirus have been confirmed in Asia, most of them in Wuhan, including two deaths — at least one involving a previous medical condition. Officials have said it probably spread from animals to people but haven’t been able to rule out the possibility that it spreads from person to person.

So far, the risk to the American public is deemed to be low, but the CDC wants to be prepared and is taking precautions, the CDC’s Dr Martin Cetron said.

The CDC is sending in 100 staffers to handle the airport screenings. Passengers who seem like they might be infected will undergo testing for flu or other possible causes. The plan is to place them in isolation at a nearby hospital until doctors know what they’re dealing with, to prevent possible spread of the new virus. Specialised testing for the virus can take a day for results, CDC officials said.

At least half-dozen countries in Asia have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China. The list includes Thailand and Japan, which both have reported cases of the disease in people who had come from Wuhan. Travel is unusually heavy right now as people take trips to and from China to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

Travellers pass by a health checkpoint before entering immigration at the international airport in Beijing. PHOTO: AP