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Health crisis grows

Patients treated in Scotland as coronavirus fear spreads

Asian tourists

Asia is a growing source of tourists into Scotland (pic: Terry Murden)

UPDATE 24 JAN: Chinese travellers have been taken to hospitals in Scotland with “flu-like symptoms” amid growing concern that the Coronavirus has spread to the UK. 

Hotels, airlines and stock markets were also on higher alert as travel restrictions were imposed on 10 cities in China.

Two patients were being treated at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital while three others are being tested at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary. They are thought to be from Wuhan, the city where the outbreak began and which is now one of three in lockdown.

Prof Juergen Haas, head of infection medicine at Edinburgh University, said: “We have currently three cases suspected Wuhan coronavirus in Edinburgh and as far as I understand one case in Glasgow.”

He said the cases emerged overnight, adding: “The situation will be pretty similar in pretty much all UK cities with a large number of Chinese students.

“It’s not too surprising. My suspicious is that there will probably be many more cases in many other cities in the UK.

“None of the cases I know of have been confirmed.”

The virus has killed 26 people and potentially infected thousands. More than 800 people are affected in China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and the United States.

Hotels and airlines hit

Chinese authorities are attempting to halt the spread of the disease. Authorities have suspended public buses and trains and ordered cinemas and internet cafes to close their doors.

The latest bans on movement follow many airlines, including Korean Air Lines, Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier Scoot, Taiwan’s China Airlines and Japan’s ANA, cancelling flights in and out of Wuhan, whose 11 million people were the first to be ordered not to leave the city.

South Korean budget carrier T’way Air earlier this week postponed the scheduled launch of a route to the city where the virus first emerged last month.

China’s biggest online travel agency, Trip.com – which owns the Edinburgh-based travel search engine Skyscanner – is also waiving cancellation fees on all hotels, car rentals and tickets for tourist attractions to Wuhan and is ”actively monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of all travellers”.

Hotel groups are also paying out refunds to tourists who want to cancel trips to Wuhan and other parts of China.

Footage from Wuhan shows a government worker using gas to disinfect a park, traffic building up on a blocked highway, make-shift tents for accommodation, and people scrapping over food in a crowded supermarket. 

Stock markets, which fell sharply in midweek, began to hold or claw back losses overnight Thursday into Friday.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng, which shut early for the holiday, closed 0.15% higher. The Shanghai Composite in China is closed today. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 was up by 0.15%

The FTSE 100 closed Thursday at 64.25 points or 0.85% lower at 7507.67, but opened higher on Friday as the World Health Organisation said it would not declare an international public health emergency. At 9.30am the FTSE 100 was up 104 points at 7612.

An estimated 30,000 people fly out of Wuhan on an average day, according to air traffic data. The city is the hub of industry and commerce in central China, home to the region’s biggest airport and deepwater port.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “In light of the latest medical information, including reports of some person-to-person transmission, and the Chinese authorities’ own advice, we are now advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan.

‘The safety and security of British nationals is always our primary concern and we advise British nationals travelling to China to remain vigilant and check our travel advice on gov.uk.”

Previous outbreaks of flu-like viruses have seen sharp falls in demand for overseas travel.

During the height of the SARS outbreak in April 2003, passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

At that time Cathay cut nearly 40% of its flights and suffered a financial loss, as did Singapore Airlines. The SARS virus eventually killed more than 800 people worldwide.

Since then the tourism industry across the world has become more dependent on Chinese tourists as China has become the world’s largest outbound travel market.

The number of Chinese passengers using international flights has grown almost tenfold from 6.8 million in 2003 to 63.7 million in 2018, according to data from the country’s aviation authority.

Scotland has enjoyed a 300% rise in visitor numbers in the last ten years, according to International Passenger Survey figures. It is now a priority market for the national tourism body.

Symptoms of infection from coronavirus include a high fever, difficulty breathing and lung lesions. Milder cases resemble a bad cold, making detection difficult. The incubation period is believed to be about two weeks, which also makes screening less effective.

The New York Times reports growing concerns that the Chinese authorities are underreporting the number of people who are ill with the virus. Relatives of patients say that some hospitals, strapped for resources as they deal with an influx of patients, are turning sick people away. 



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