Liberia: NPHIL Intensifies Surveillance Against Corona-Virus Outbreak

Airport workers wear face masks at China's Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport.

..Urged the public to remain calm

The Ministry of Health (MoH), through the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), says it is intensifying its surveillance system amid the death of six persons of pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus in China.

The Director-General of NPHIL, Dr. Mosoka Fallah, told journalists at a news conference on Thursday, January 24, 2020, that on 31 December 2019, a cluster of pneumonia of unknown etiology (cause) was reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. A novel coronavirus (2019) was identified as the causative virus by Chinese authorities on 7 January.

Dr. Fallah said while the cause of pneumonia seems to be a novel coronavirus, transmission potential and modes of transmission remain unclear. Therefore, he noted, "It would be prudent to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections while traveling in or from affected areas."

Dr. Fallah indicated that the MoH through the NPHIL will be strict about health screenings of airplane passengers arriving from Wuhan at the Roberts International Airport (RIA).

He noted that based on available information, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend any restriction of travel or trade to and from China. "Meanwhile, Liberia will continue to strengthen preparedness for health emergencies in line with the International Health Regulations (2005) at the airports," said Fallah.

Dr. Fallah: "There is no specific treatment for disease caused by the novel coronavirus yet. However, supportive care for infected persons can be highly effective."

He further disclosed that current statistics and reports, as of 21 January 2020, have unveiled a total of 314 confirmed cases for novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) including six deaths that were also reported to WHO globally from China.

He clarified that of the 314 cases reported, 309 cases were reported from China, two from Thailand, one from Japan and one from the Republic of South Korea; stressing that cases in Thailand, Japan, and South Korea were exported from Wuhan City, China; and of the 309 confirmed cases in China, 270 cases were confirmed from Wuhan; the 270 cases he said, 51 cases are severely ill and 12 are in critical conditions.

Dr Fallah also added that the United States has confirmed its first case arriving from Wuhan, China. He said many of the initial cases were thought to have contacted the virus through animal-to-human transmission as it has been established.

"The Global surveillance is being established and it is expected that more cases will be reported over the next weeks," he quoted the reports.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, and cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, an infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

Wuhan city is a major transport hub in China. Given the heavy population movements, cases are expected to significantly increase during the Chinese New Year in the last week of January. The risk of cases being reported from elsewhere is increased.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fallah said that the NPHIL is currently coordinating with partners to continuously assess and manage the risk of importation.

"The port health services have been placed on the alert and have heightened screening measures at the point of entry and other public health measures for self-protection," he noted.

However, the authority at NPHIL has urged citizens to avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections. It has further cautioned citizens to frequent hand-washing, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.

NPHIL also stressed the need to avoid close contact with live or dead farm or wild animals; adding that travelers with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette by maintaining distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands.

Wuhan City is a major transport hub in China, serving direct flights to at least 5 continents.

Wuhan is a major manufacturing city in China with a heavy focus on automobile and medical equipment. As a major transportation hub, Wuhan is one of the stops on two of the main long-distance high-speed railway lines: Beijing-Guangzhou (from north to south) and Shanghai-Chengdu high-speed railway (from east to west). According to information on Flightconnections.com, Wuhan Airport services non-stop scheduled passenger flights to 109 destinations in 20 countries.

A history of travel to or from a person who lived in Wuhan, Hubei Province China in the last 14 days before symptom onset; The public is advised to remain calm. Travelers from Liberia to Wuhan, Guangdong, Beijing, and Shanghai are advised to avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead), and animal markets. Travelers from China to Liberia may be asked questions upon arrival by the port health officers at the points of entry.

Dr. Fallah who earlier assured citizens of NPHIL's commitment, however, said its partners are fully committed as well as strengthening the preparedness and response to infectious disease outbreak in the country. "Information will be shared with the public as it becomes available," he declared.

In a related development, the Chief Medical & Scientific Officer of Molecular Pathogen Diagnostics Shufflex Biomed, Dr. Dougbeh Chris Nyan, quoting the Minister of National Health Commission of China, Li Bin, said that the virus has now killed 9 people and infected 440 people across mainland China.

In a letter to Dr. Fallah dated January 21, 2020, Dr Nyan said the World Health Organization (WHO) has also reported that the virus has reached 5 countries, including the United States where the first confirmed case was announced on January 21, 2020. "I suggest an immediate proactive approach aimed at erecting requisite preventive measures," DR. Nyan said in his communication to NPHIL.

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