10 February 2020
Following the Health Secretary’s statement this morning that Coronavirus represents “serious and imminent threat” to public health, the British Ports Association is calling for more funding and support to be given to UK local authority officials to prepare our borders.
In the UK, port health authorities are responsible for developing health controls at seaports and airports and are tasked with preventing the introduction of dangerous epidemic diseases through shipping activity without creating unnecessary disruptions to world trade.
Commenting on the situation, the British Ports Association’s Chief Executive, Richard Ballantyne, said:
“As an island nation, the ports sector is committed to maintaining the flow of the supply chain however we must also balance this with protecting our borders, maritime workers and the general public from the Wuhan Coronavirus. The risks are still low but local authorities need additional public support to devise their emergency plans in case the situation escalates.
Port health authorities, which are managed by local authorities, have a critical role to play in ensuring the Wuhan Coronavirus does not further spread to the UK via our ports and airports. Although the government is planning to produce official guidance for the UK maritime sector, ports are liaising with their relevant public health and port health bodies.”
Posters which explain the symptoms of the Wuhan Coronavirus are on display at ports that handle passengers, Asian traffic and some safety and health precautions are being taken for maritime pilots boarding vessels that have travelled from China. Ballantyne continued:
“The risks in the maritime sector in this part of the world are still very low and health specialists are developing their understanding of virus every day. It typically takes between 30-40 days to sail from China so any crew who develop the virus should do so in this time. Ships are also required to notify ports if any such developments occur and ports can see the last 10 calls a ship has made to assess risks. However if the virus spreads to Europe as is predicted local port health authorities will need to manage risks from shorter flights and sailings.”
Some UK port health authorities have also implemented enhanced screening measures such as requesting Maritime Declarations of Health from vessels that have called at Chinese ports, interviewing crew and disseminating travel advice. Ballantyne added:
“While Port Health Authorities and their front line staff are doing a good job in the current climate we do however have some concerns that some would not have adequate resources to deal with the Wuhan Coronavirus should it spread. It’s although worth considering the increased role port health officers will need to potentially play once the UK ends the Brexit transition period when new routine environmental health controls could come into force.”
As many would have seen, the Wuhan Coronavirus, which originally developed in the Hubei province in China, has been rapidly spreading to other parts of the world. Wuhan is a major river port and shipping thoroughfare connecting central China to the rest of the world.
As typical sailing times from China are 28-40 days the Department of Health and Social Care have said they expect crew to develop symptoms within this time if they have been infected with the Wuhan Coronavirus so they are focusing their attention on aviation travel at this time.