Coronavirus outbreak: World Health Organisation working with travel industry so flights to China can resume

The World Health Organization will work with travel and tourism industry representatives on Wednesday (local time) to draw up further recommendations to protect their crews so they can resume flights to China, a senior WHO official said.

Sylvie Briand, WHO director of global infectious hazard preparedness, said people infected with the coronavirus should wear masks, but that for other people without signs of the disease, "the masks will not necessarily protect them 100 percent".

Frequent hand-washing and other hygiene measures were needed, as the virus is spread by close contact and can also remain on surfaces, she said.

She dismissed earlier medical studies of some people having transmitted the disease without showing signs, saying they actually had "minor symptoms" that went undetected.

The outbreak, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and has spread within the country and to 23 other countries, does not constitute a pandemic, but an epidemic with "multiple foci", she said.

So far 19 countries had formally notified the UN agency of measures or restrictions taken in connection with the outbreak and the WHO was seeking clarifications on their justifications, Briand said.

Dozens of airlines have suspended flights.

The WHO, in declaring an international emergency last week, called on countries not to impose unnecessary trade or travel restrictions on China.

A WHO spokesman told Reuters a teleconference with tourism and travel industry representatives was set for Wednesday.

"Crews for those companies are really scared of being infected, because when they are in a flight they have very close contact with passengers, so they feel really at risk," Briand told a Geneva news conference.

HONG KONG, CHINA - JANUARY 22: A patient is transferred by an ambulance to the Infectious Disease Centre of Princess Margaret Hospital on January 22, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong reported its first two cases of Wuhan coronavirus infections as the number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to seventeen on Wednesday and cases have been reported in other countries including the United States,Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Photo credit: Getty

"That is why we need to define with those companies specific recommendations so their staff feel secure, feel protected as well as well so that they can resume flying to China," she said.

Briand, noting that these were "legitimate concerns", added, "I cannot guarantee they will resume the flights."

WHO was working with countries and also hoped for a "realignment" among countries' policies regarding evacuations of their nationals from China, she said.

Coronavirus has remained "quite a stable virus", she said.

Hong Kong reported its first death from the newly identified coronavirus on Tuesday, the second outside mainland China.

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