The World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a “global health emergency” on Thursday, Jan. 30. With China as number one trade partner and the tens of thousands of Chinese tourists Chile receives every year, the country is at risk. What measures is Chile taking to prevent infections in the country?
With over 200 deaths, thousands of infections in countries around the globe, the new coronavirus was declared “a global health emergency” by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, Jan. 30. Airlines have cancelled flights from and to China and countries are repatriating citizens out of the Asian country. Those who are suspected of infection are being placed in quarantine. Although, according to the latest information, the virus has not yet reached Chile, the country is at risk because on average 4,000 Chinese tourists visit the country every month.
“The probability that the coronavirus will hit Chile is not minor,” Chilean Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said on Wednesday, Jan. 29, according to daily La Tercera, after he met with President Sebastián Piñera, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel, and government spokeswoman Karla Rubilar in La Moneda palace to discuss risks and measures regarding the fast-spreading virus.
10,000 Chinese Tourists in 15 Days
The need for measures is high, as Chilean authorities are expecting tourism from China to increase: over 10,000 Chinese tourists are expected to arrive in Chile in the next 15 days because of the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday. At the same time, the Chilean Foreign Ministry needs to figure out what to do with the five Chilean students who are currently trapped in the city of Wuhan. Wuhan is the city where the new coronavirus was first discovered, and the entire city has been put on lockdown ever since.
So far, the virus has not reached Latin America, despite suspected infections in countries like Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. Despite the high numbers of tourists that visit Chile and other Latin American countries, there are very little direct flights and airports around the world have taken measures to scan passengers for the virus.
What is the new coronavirus?
The new coronavirus is a virus that has its origins in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which is why some refer to the Wuhan-coronavirus. So far it has infected over 9,000 people – most of them in China – and killed over 200 people.
Symptoms of the coronavirus, that is mostly deadly among elder people and people with respiratory problems such as asthma, are coughing and difficulty with breathing and fever. In a more advanced or severe stadium, it can cause pneumonia, kidney failure and eventually death.
Animals carry different types of coronaviruses, even some that have not yet infected humans. However, the virus can be transmitted from animal to human, which is why scientists believe it originates from a market in Wuhan where wild animals, more specifically snakes, were sold.
Health authorities recommend washing hands with soap and water several times a day, staying away from people who cough or sneeze, and making sure to cover your mouth with your elbow when sneezing or coughing yourself. Avoid contact with (wild) animals and wash your hands after contact.
— WHO Uganda (@WHOUganda) January 31, 2020
Measures Against Coronavirus
Nevertheless, Chilean authorities have taken measures to avoid infections of the new coronavirus in the country. Health authorities have set up a special urgency room at the airport in Santiago, where suspected infected people will be brought immediately. At the moment, authorities can give a diagnosis within three days, but according to Biobio.cl tools will soon become available that allow a diagnosis in as little as 12 hours.
Contact with the WHO has increased and in most hospitals emergency services are prepared to handle possible cases. A communications campaign has been set up to inform people with respiratory symptoms or fever who have been abroad to visit a hospital immediately to get checked. At airports and ports like the one in Valparaíso, screenings of passengers and workers will also increase.
Effects on Trade
The new coronavirus has also affected trade in Chile. China is one of the main export markets for Chilean fruit and salmon. The Association of Fruit Exporters of Chile said that “Exports are carried out as normal. However, we are monitoring any possible effect that the coronavirus could have on our collaborators and commercial agents.”
UnderCurrent News writes that Chilean salmon sellers, however, were forced to redirect salmon to the U.S. and Brazil after Chinese buyers canceled orders. “There were some cancellations of orders last week, some fish was on the way, some were stopped at the Chilean airports,” one of the company’s executives said.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.