Swine flu- travellers abroad face hostile reception
While the pandemic has spread to nearly 200 countries, the UK has intrigued public health specialists by reporting to date the most cases outside Mexico and the US, with 100,000 new suspected infections in recent days and rising fast.
After recent incidents when British citizens have been detained in China, Brunei and Romania, the Foreign Office is warning visitors to its website that they could be screened on entry to a foreign country and even placed in quarantine if found to have swine flu like symptoms.
But with many countries across Europe and elsewhere yet to be significantly affected by the flu, and often with modest stockpiles of the medicine Tamiflu, those who do fall ill while abroad may face greater hurdles than normal in gaining swift access to treatment.
Some countries are simply putting up posters at ports of entry advising travellers to seek medical help if they have flu symptoms, but it says Romania is among those now specifically asking those arriving from the UK to fill in a medical questionnaire and placing those with symptoms in isolation in hospital for treatment.
The Association of British Travel Agents has also criticised overzealous imposition of screening of British travellers by foreign countries including Egypt and Turkey despite advice that it serves no purpose from the World Health Organisation.
Official advice warns those who have already fallen ill to defer their trips, while the airlines BA and Virgin have already indicated that they may prevent people from travelling if they have the symptoms.
After concerns that two travel insurers had said they would not cover cancellation costs for people contracting swine flu, the Association of British Insurers stressed this week that all would be reimbursed provided their condition had been recognised by the government’s new Pandemic Flu Service.
To date, at least 52 British students have been quarantined in China, 200 soldiers in Brunei and eight school children in Romania.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it was providing consular assistance to at least 160 British nationals in swine-flu quarantine in four countries: China, Singapore, India and Egypt.
“We are paying close attention to the welfare of Brits in quarantine. We are keeping in touch by phone with those in quarantine to check on their welfare; ensure they understand the procedures; and to pass messages to and from parents and relatives in the UK.”