Europe has introduced precautions and preventative steps in its battle against the spread of the novel coronavirus, but the continent seems to be regarding the overall threat as relatively weak.
France, Europe’s first nation with confirmed cases, identified its third on Friday, prompting Health Minister Agnes Buzyn to tell reporters that Paris will introduce measures to stop the disease becoming an epidemic.
“You have to treat an epidemic like you treat a fire,” she said.”You need to locate the source very quickly.”
Officials have been tracking down people who interacted with the three who have the disease, putting many into quarantine.
“Every person who has been in contact with patients is being identified,” the Health Ministry said in a statement.”They will receive specific instructions from the health authorities to avoid contact, in order to limit the spread of the virus.”
Throughout the continent, people who fear they may have the virus are being told to keep away from doctors’ clinics and hospitals and instead call the emergency services, in an attempt to reduce contact. And France took more decisive action on Monday, when Prime Minister Edouard Philippe offered French people trapped in locked-down Wuhan a direct flight back to France, where they will be quarantined for 14 days.
As of Tuesday morning, the only other European nation with a confirmed case was Germany.
Deutsche Welle said German health authorities believe the infected man is the first person outside China to catch the illness from a person who is not a relative. The man was infected by a Chinese colleague-a woman visiting his workplace from Shanghai.
The Reuters news agency reports that some European tour operators have canceled planned trips to China over concern about the virus. SETO, which represents tour operators in France, has told its members to consider canceling tours until at least Feb 21. And Russian tour operators have also stopped selling package holidays to China.
Astrid Vabret, a professor of virology medicine at Caen University Hospital, told France 24 that European airports could help in the fight to keep the disease at bay by using thermal cameras to detect passengers with a temperature-a move already in place in China.
“Chinese authorities have put in place measures never before taken,” she said, while noting that in France “everybody is prepared in the hospitals”.
Some health professionals are questioning whether screening works. Professor Aileen Marty, from the infectious diseases department at Florida International University, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that the fact that people are spreading the virus before developing symptoms means it will be hard to identify those with the disease.
But, thankfully, some experts believe the virus may not be as potent as feared.
Dr Yazdan Yazdanpanah, who is caring for two of the three French patients, told the Associated Press that the chance of “an epidemic in France or in Europe is weak, extremely weak”.
He said the “illness is a lot less serious … than, for example, SARS”, the severe acute respiratory syndrome that claimed nearly 800 lives in 2002 and 2003, which he said was 15 times more deadly.