The UK is expected to begin monitoring flights arriving from China, as part of a series of precautionary measures after the spread of a new coronavirus.
The measures, set to be announced later, will apply to flights from Wuhan to London Heathrow.
According to government sources, Public Health England will upgrade the risk to the UK population from very low to low.
Chinese authorities have advised people to stop travel into and out of Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak.
They also admitted the country is now at the “most critical stage” of prevention and control.
So far, there have been 440 confirmed cases and nine people have died.
Most cases have been in Wuhan but the virus has also spread to other Chinese cities.
A handful of cases have also been identified abroad, including in Japan and the United States. There have been no cases in Britain.
On Tuesday, authorities in China confirmed for the first time that human-to-human transmission of the virus had taken place.
Health team at airport
In its most recent update on Monday, the UK government said the risk to the population was “very low” while the risk to travellers to Wuhan was “low”.
The situation was “under constant review”, it said.
A government source has now told the BBC that Public Health England and the chief medical officer are expected to increase the risk level to the population to “low”.
And on Wednesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is also expected to put in place a series of “port measures” as a precaution which include:
- A health team to meet each direct flight from Wuhan to London Heathrow
- Passengers on flights will hear an announcement and be given a leaflet to encourage them to report if they are ill
- Aircraft will land in an isolated area of Heathrow Terminal 4 that “better lends itself to any health contingencies”
There are currently three direct flights a week from Wuhan to London Heathrow.
It comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) will also consider on Wednesday whether to declare an international public health emergency over the virus – as it did with swine flu and Ebola.
Authorities in several countries, including Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan have stepped up screening of air passengers from Wuhan.
US authorities last week announced similar measures at airports in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. They have now announced plans to introduce similar measures at airports in Chicago and Atlanta this week.
The UK’s expected measures do not appear to include a medical screening of passengers at the airport for signs of the virus, as the UK did in 2014 following the Ebola outbreak.
Then, screening involved taking people’s temperatures to check whether they have a fever and asking several questions to assess their risk.
- New China virus ‘could mutate and spread further’
China – which is stepping up containment measures – has still not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.
But the country’s National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin said there was evidence that the disease was “mainly transmitted through the respiratory tract”.
A National Health Commission official admitted that the country was now at the “most critical stage” of prevention and control.