RwandAir suspends Guangzhou flights following coronavirus outbreak in China

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By :
AT Team

RwandAir has suspended all its flights to the china in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, Africa Tembelea has learnt.

In a press release shared on the airlines social media handles, RwandAir said its decision follows the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern by the World Health Organisation.

“RwandAir is to suspend flights with immediate effect between the Rwandan capital, Kigali, and the Chinese city of Guangzhou,” adding that the decision will be reviewed later in February.

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World Health Organization declares coronavirus an international public health emergency

The airline says that affected passengers will be re-routed, refunded or allowed to change their tickets to a later date. RwandAir is not the first to have dropped its China flights. British Airways announced the cancellation of its flights in the wake of the British Foreign Office’s warning against all but essential travel to mainland China.

Africa Tembelea also understands that the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority is in the process of notifying other airlines entering Rwanda that any passengers on board their aircraft, who have travelled from China, will upon arrival be screened for potential exposure to novel coronavirus, and may be quarantined for two weeks for observation and case management.

– What you need to know about the coronavirus from China –

Public health experts around the globe are scrambling to understand, track, and contain a new virus that appeared in Wuhan, China at the start of December.

So far, there have been over 9,700 confirmed cases and 213 deaths. The majority of the illnesses are in China, but cases have been reported in nearly two dozen other countries. No deaths related to the illness have been reported outside of China.

– Where did the virus come from? –

At the end of December, public health officials from China informed the World Health Organization that they had a problem: an unknown, new virus was causing pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan. They quickly determined that it was a coronavirus, and that it was rapidly spreading through and outside of Wuhan.

Coronaviruses are common in animals of all kinds, and sometimes can evolve into forms that can infect humans. Since the start of the century, two other coronaviruses have jumped to humans, causing the SARS outbreak in 2002 and the MERS outbreak in 2012.

Scientists think this new virus first became capable of jumping to humans at the beginning of December. It originally seemed like the virus first infected people at a seafood market in Wuhan and spread from there. But one analysis of early cases of the illness, published January 24th, found that the first patient to get sick did not have any contact with the market. Experts are still trying to trace the outbreak back to its source.

The type of animal the virus originated from is not clear. One team of researchers in China published a report arguing that it came from snakes, based on the genetic code of the virus. However, scientists are very skeptical of that conclusion. Another analysis found that the genetic sequence of the new virus is 96 percent identical to one coronavirus found in bats. Both SARS and MERS originated in bats.

– So is this the same as SARS? –

The new virus isn’t SARS, although that also began in China. Because it comes from the same viral family as SARS, it has some similarities, but it’s an entirely new virus. However, the commonalities mean scientists and public health officials can use what they’ve learned from the past outbreak to try to stop this one.

– How dangerous is this new virus? –

Right now, no one knows.

It takes information about both how severe an illness is and how easily it can spread to determine how “bad” it can be. Epidemiologists often use this tool to assess new flus, for example, and guide decision-making:

If an illness isn’t very severe (and kills only a small percentage of people), but it’s highly transmissible, it can still cause devastating effects — if something affects millions, the small percentage it kills will still be a high number of fatalities.

Researchers are still trying to understand the symptoms of the coronavirus, which have ranged from mild, like those in a cold, to severe. Around 20 percent of confirmed cases have been severe, according to the WHO. That’s 20 percent of the cases that we know about — it’s still possible that there are many more mild cases of the illness that haven’t been flagged, which would shrink the percentage of cases that are severe.

So far, the fatality rate for the new coronavirus is around 2 to 3 percent, though that could continue to change as the outbreak progresses. The fatality rate for SARS was about 14 to 15 percent. Most deaths in this outbreak have been in older people who have underlying health issues, like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes. (That’s the same demographic who is most at risk of dying from illnesses like the flu.)

– How fast is the virus spreading? –

We don’t yet know how rapidly or easily the virus can spread. In China, sick people have been infecting others through person-to-person transmission since the start of January, and the WHO has reported that there have been sustained chains of people passing the virus along for at least four generations: one person got sick (probably from an animal), passed the virus to another person, who passed it to another person. People in four countries outside of China — the US, Germany, Japan, Vietnam — were infected with the coronavirus by other people, and not from direct travel to China.

Early evidence suggested that, like other coronaviruses, the virus jumps between people who are in very close contact with each other, and probably spreads when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

But Chinese officials have said that they have seen cases where people with the virus infected others before they start showing symptoms. A letter to The New England Journal of Medicine also details a case where people who didn’t feel sick appeared to infect others in Germany.

If that’s happening regularly, containing the spread of the virus will be more complicated. There’s still only limited evidence that asymptomatic people can spread the virus, though. And even if it was happening, it probably wouldn’t significantly affect the outbreak, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a press conference.

“Even if there is some asymptomatic transmission, in all the history of respiratory borne illness, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks,” he said. “An epidemic is not driven by asymptomatic carriers.”

The WHO says that researchers think each sick person will go on to infect, on average, between 1.4 and 2.5 additional people, though that’s only a preliminary estimate. Other teams of researchers have published their own estimates, with most saying a sick person will infect an average of around two or three people.

Those numbers are called the virus’s R0 (pronounced “R-naught”). The R0 is the mathematical representation of how well an infection might be able to spread. The higher the number, the more potentially spreadable it can be. For comparison, the R0 for SARS was between two and five. But that doesn’t mean each sick person will actually infect that many people; quarantines and other actions taken to control outbreaks of a virus can bring down the number of people a sick person infects.

– I’ve been coughing. Do I have this virus? –

If you haven’t recently been to Wuhan, China, or been in close contact with someone who is sick and has recently been to Wuhan, China, it’s very unlikely you have this virus. It’s totally normal to feel anxious, though — and there are ways to reduce that anxiety, like by distracting yourself with other activities, or keeping the risks in perspective.

– How can I protect myself? –

Based on what we know so far, you can protect yourself with the same measures you’d take (and should be taking) to protect yourself against the flu: wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and stay away from people who are sick.

– How is China trying to stop the virus? –

On January 22nd, officials in Wuhan shut down all transportation in the city, which is home to over 11 million people. They closed buses and subways, and canceled all flights and trains in and out of the city. The director general of the WHO applauded the decision, saying that it would help control the outbreak and slow the spread into other countries. Fifteen other cities, home to a total of 46 million people, are locked down as well, The New York Times reported.

However, other officials weren’t sure if these quarantines would be effective: “To my knowledge, trying to contain a city of 11 million people is new to science,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, told the Associated Press. “It has not been tried before as a public health measure. We cannot at this stage say it will or it will not work.”

Major cities across the country canceled celebrations for the Lunar New Year, a huge holiday in China.

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