On Monday the death toll of the Coronavirus exceeded 1,000 and the number of infections climbed to 43,000 in China. In comparison, the SARS epidemy in 2002-2003 killed 774 persons worldwide.
While the European Commission tackles the Coronavirus outbreak in different ways, it does not coordinate flight bans or other travel restrictions to China and other countries affected by the virus, according to the Commission.
“As the Coronavirus outbreak affects more and more countries, coordination and cooperation need to be our main focus,” said Janez Lenarcic, Commissioner for Crisis Management, speaking from EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre in Brussels (10 January).
EU is co-financing, via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, the transports costs of repatriating EU citizens from Wuhan, the city and region where the virus originated, and which is subject to a travel lockdown by the Chinese authorities. In three flights organised by France, Germany and the United Kingdom, 542 EU citizens have been flown home.
The Coordination Centre is also liaising with all EU member states to facilitate the delivery of needed personal and protective equipment to China. In an immediate response, 12 tonnes have already been mobilised. The EU is also providing €10 million from its research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020, to support research into the new Coronavirus disease.
A national competency
As regards travel guidance on flying to China and other countries affected by the Coronavirus, a European Commission spokesperson told The Brussels Times that it is a national competency.
“The Commission is not issuing any travel recommendations. We are aware that a huge number of airline companies have suspended their flights to China. This is a decision to be taken by private economic operators or member states. We do not have a comprehensive list of their decisions.”
That said, the situation is closely monitored by two EU bodies, the European Aviation Crisis Coordination Cell (EACCC) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). A spokesperson of EASA confirmed that it does not track the actions of others on travel bans. The action the agency has taken in the context of the Coronavirus is to issue a Safety Information Bulletin to airliners.
The bulletin, which was updated on 10 February, advises cabin crews and airport operators on actions they may take to minimise the spread of the Coronavirus and detect whether passengers may be suffering from the virus. The agency has also created a poster with this information to be displayed on cabin crew noticeboards and similar locations.
Aircraft operators performing passenger flights to or from the affected countries should be equipped with one or more Universal Precaution Kits (UPKs) to protect crew members.
Crew members are encouraged to identify passengers meeting the following criteria: having signs and symptoms indicative of acute respiratory infections and having been in China or in contact with people infected with the virus or with people arriving from China within 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms.
If a passenger displaying the symptoms has been identified, the crew should be encouraged to register health information, provide a medical face mask for the passenger and try to minimize the contact between the suspected passenger and cabin crew members and other passengers. Alternatively, the sick person can be asked to cover the mouth and nose with tissues when coughing or sneezing.
Airlines and operators should also ensure that:
• A sufficient quantity of potable water is available in the water tank of aircraft prior to departure
• A sufficient number of gloves are available onboard
• A disinfectant gel is available for the crew
• While on the ground with passengers onboard, the maximum time without air conditioning/ventilation should be less than 30 minutes
The Brussels Times