The Portuguese embassy in Beijing has warned the 15 nationals said to be desperate to leave the quarantined Chinese city of Wuhan that there is a heightened risk that in so doing they will be exposed to people who have come into contact with the potentially deadly coronavirus.
For now – as the numbers affected by the illness continue to spiral – a flight due to leave Wuhan on Friday has been promised to all nationals who wish to take it.
But in a letter sent to the Portuguese known to be in Wuhan since the city was put in lockdown, the embassy suggests they reconsider their desire to leave.
Reports Jornal de Notícias, the embassy’s text explains: “Evacuation operations in themselves present the chance of heightened risk for those being evacuated in that they will enter into contact with many people, some of whom will already have been exposed to coronavirus”.
The missive continues: “Our function is to inform you and support your decision, to leave or to stay. The option is naturally free and individual”.
A flight scheduled to take Europeans out of crisis-hit Wuhan has been organised via the European Mechanism for Civil Protection.
Meantime, in Portugal, concerns have been growing – particularly within the Chinese community – not least because it was reported earlier this week that no measures at all were in place at Lisbon airport to check arrivals flying in from China.
Residents in Évora for example – who say the city regularly ‘fills up with Chinese’ tourists – told the Resident they are ‘keeping clear of touristic areas as much as possible’ – as it is now accepted people can be infected with the virus and transmit it for as long as two weeks before showing any symptoms themselves.
Sales of protective face masks (the kind worn to help fend off heavy colds and flu) have gone into overdrive in Lisbon, while the first suspected case of the virus – a young Chinese resident returning to Portugal from China – has been given the all-clear.
Portuguese authorities say they are in “permanent articulation with national and international institutes and organisations” – particularly the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – in order to be able to rapidly adopt any measures deemed necessary.
So far, infections have been confirmed in a number of other countries beyond China: Macau, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Singapore, Vietnam, Nepal, Malaysia, France, Germany, Australia and Canada.
The symptoms of this latest strain, provisionally called 2019.nCoV, are “more intense than a flu and include fever, pain, general malaise and difficulties with breathing”.
But according to Portugal’s director of health Graça Freitas, Portugal’s capacity for dealing with this threat is “good, among the best in the world”.
The Lisbon hospitals of Curry Cabral and Dona Estefânia have been allocated to deal with any coronavirus cases – the first will take adults, the second children.
For now, it is a ‘waiting game’.
Explains Graça Freitas, none of the potentially returning Portuguese are ill or showing any symptoms right now. Their situations will be monitored throughout the evacuation process, and decisions made on whether or not they should be quarantined on arrival in Lisbon.
RTP news on Wednesday stressed that up till now “very few children have been affected by coronavirus”. The majority of cases have been registered in adults between the ages of 40 – 60.