[WATCH] China virus scare: passenger screening at Malta airport not necessary

Is there the risk of contracting the new Chinese influenza by handling a parcel received from China? Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci answers your queries about the coronavirus

Screenings taking place within the region of Wuhan
Screenings taking place within the region of Wuhan

Screening passengers arriving at Malta International Airport for symptoms caused by the new Chinese virus would be of "little value", given that there are no direct flights to China, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci said.

She was speaking to MaltaToday about the new influenza virus, known as coronavirus, which originated in the city of Wuhan.

Countries such as the US and Italy, which have direct flights from the region of Wuhan, are screening passengers upon arrival.

Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci
Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci

“There is added value in those countries with direct flights to screen passengers but with the coronavirus presenting similarly to ordinary influenza, and given that we are in the peak influenza season, it would be very difficult to differentiate between influenza and the coronavirus,” Gauci said.

The coronavirus originated from Wuhan in China and is being dubbed the “cousin” of the SARS virus. The virus appears to have originated from a Wuhan seafood market where wild animals, including marmots, birds, rabbits, bats and snakes, are traded illegally.

Coronaviruses are known to jump from animals to humans, so it’s thought that the first people infected with the disease – a group primarily made up of stallholders from the seafood market – contracted it from contact with animals.

Although an initial analysis of the virus suggested it was similar to coronavirus seen in snakes, it now seems more likely that it came from bats.

In China, there are currently 830 confirmed cases of patients infected with the virus. A small number of confirmed cases have also been found outside China, including Thailand, the US, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Singapore. The death toll is currently 26.

Gauci said that cases of the coronavirus seen outside of Asia have been experienced by people who were either at the aforementioned seafood market or in the Wuhan region – and that as of yet, they have been isolated cases and have not spread to persons who did not visit the region. 

“What we know right now is that with the coronavirus – the period of incubation is 14 days – from when the person is in direct contact with the virus and when they start showing symptoms. We don’t have direct flights from Wuhan – however, we are monitoring the situation,” she said.

Gauci stressed that if there are people who have travelled from Wuhan and are currently in Malta and start experiencing symptoms it is imperative they reach out on 21324086, a 24/7 helpline which will assist them.

“We will carry out a risk assessment, to see the probability if it being the coronavirus – and perform the necessary tests – to make sure that if it is the coronavirus it remains contained and prevent the risk of it spreading.”

When it comes to ordering online – Gauci said that packages coming from China were at a low risk of carrying the virus. “While the virus can live outside of the person for a period of time – considering the time it takes for packages to arrive in Malta – a minimum of three weeks – the virus would have either died or carried a low risk of being contracted.” However, Gauci urged the public to be vigilant and not take added risks.