China offers 'free screening' for travellers from Zika-hit countries

China will begin health screening for people arriving from Singapore and other countries which have seen outbreaks of Zika.
China will begin health screening for people arriving from Singapore and other countries which have seen outbreaks of Zika.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China will offer Zika health screenings for travellers from Singapore and other affected countries, the quarantine bureau said on Wednesday (Sept 7), without explaining whether the tests would be compulsory.

China has previously announced that it would step up checks on people and goods from Singapore, where more than 240 locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed. These include more than 20 Chinese nationals.

Individuals travelling from Singapore and other affected countries who show Zika symptoms should report to quarantine officials when entering China, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said in a statement posted on its website.

The administration said all international travel healthcare centres would provide “free Zika screening and tests” to all individuals travelling from countries where local Zika transmission had been confirmed.

It did not say the checks would be mandatory, but required all inspection and quarantine agencies to “strengthen joint prevention and control”.

Chinese international airports are generally equipped with thermal scanners that are capable of screening passengers for fever as they pass through customs.

During past outbreaks, including that of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) and swine flu, passengers have been required to fill out health declaration forms.

Over the past few years, China has had plenty of experience of dealing with disease outbreaks and learned a tough lesson in 2003 when authorities initially covered up the Sars outbreak.

There have been no obvious signs that Beijing is especially nervous about a Zika outbreak in China, aside from ordering the stepped-up checks on travellers.

Zika infections in pregnant women have been shown to cause microcephaly – a severe birth defect in which the head and brain are undersized – as well as other brain abnormalities.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light last fall in Brazil, which has since confirmed more than 1,800 cases of microcephaly.

In adults, Zika infections have also been linked to a rare neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, as well as other neurological disorders.

Malaysia on Wednesday confirmed its first case of the Zika virus in a pregnant woman, a 27-year-old living in a southern city next to Singapore.