China steps up health screenings of travellers arriving from Singapore amid Zika virus outbreak

Residents are seen past a public service announcement banner against the spread of Aedes mosquitoes, a carrier for the Zika virus, at a residential block at Aljunied Crescent neighbourhood on Aug 29, 2016.
Residents are seen past a public service announcement banner against the spread of Aedes mosquitoes, a carrier for the Zika virus, at a residential block at Aljunied Crescent neighbourhood on Aug 29, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's quarantine authorities said on Thursday (Sept 1) they have been increasing health screenings of travellers arriving from Singapore amid an outbreak of the Zika virus in the country.

China is also increasing inspections of shipments arriving from Singapore, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement on its website.

Singapore is the only Asian country with an active transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is a particular risk to pregnant women, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Singapore reported the first locally-transmitted Zika infection last Saturday, with the number of cases rising to 115 by Thursday - half of whom were foreigners, mainly from China, India and Bangladesh.

Malaysia confirmed its first case of Zika infection, in a woman who had recently visited Singapore.

The United States, Australia and other countries have warned pregnant women or those trying to conceive not to travel to Singapore.

China is trade-dependent Singapore's top overseas market, and the Zika outbreak coincides with a dip in overall exports and slowing economic growth in both countries.

"If this continues, certainly it will have a negative impact, but it's hard to quantify in percentage terms or dollar value," said Mr Francis Tan, an economist at United Overseas Bank in Singapore.

The Zika virus, which has spread through the Americas and the Caribbean since late last year, is generally a mild disease but has been linked to microcephaly - a severe birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which has declared Zika an international public health emergency, is holding a regular meeting of its Zika emergency committee on Thursday to review the spread of the disease.

Zika is carried by mosquitoes, which transmit the virus to humans, though a small number of cases of sexual transmission of the virus have been reported in the Americas. A case of suspected transmission through a blood transfusion in Brazil has raised questions about other ways in which Zika may spread.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. An estimated 80 per cent of people infected have no symptoms, however.

The WHO has also linked Zika to Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome that causes temporary paralysis in adults.