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UK ports calling for funding for local preparedness for the Coronavirus

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Following the Health Secretary’s recent statement that the Coronavirus represents a “serious and imminent threat” to public health, the British Ports Association (BPA) is calling for more funding and support to be given to UK local authority officials to prepare its 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 BPA’s CEO, Richard Ballantyne, said: "As an island nation, the ports sector is committed to maintaining the flow of the supply chain. However, this must also be balanced with protecting the UK’s borders, maritime workers and the general public from the Wuhan Coronavirus. The risks are still low, but authorities need additional public support to devise 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 Coronavirus does not further spread to the UK via its ports and airports. Although the government is planning to produce official guidelines for the UK maritime sector, ports are liaising with the relevant public health and port health bodies."

Posters which explain the symptoms of the Coronavirus are on display at ports that handle passengers and Asian traffic, and some health and safety 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 an understanding of the virus everyday. It typically takes between 30 - 40 days to sail from China, so any crew who develops 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 the front line staff are doing a good job in the current climate, there are concerns that some would not have adequate resources to deal with the Coronavirus should it spread. It is nevertheless 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.“

The Coronavirus, which originally developed in the Hubei province of China, has been rapidly spreading to other parts of the world. Wuhan is a major river port and shipping thoroughfare connecting central China tot he rest oft he world.

As typical sailing times from China are 28 - 40 days, the Department of Health and Social Care have said crews are expected to develop symptoms within this time if they have been infected, and so are focusing the attention on aviation travel at this time.

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