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Palau is gearing up response for the pneumonia-like virus that was first reported in Wuhan, China, with the Ministry of Health and border control agencies announcing that it will start screening all arriving flights for symptomatic passengers who have travel history through the outbreak affected areas,

In a press statement, the Ministry of Health said although there no direct flights from Wuhan, China to Palau, it is certainly preparing to assess incoming passengers.

The statement said that the common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure, and even death.

“Everyone is encouraged to practice preventive measures such as regular hand washing, covering your mouth with a tissue or the upper-sleeve of your shirt when you’re coughing and sneezing, and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing,’ MOH said.

The Novel (new) coronavirus strain was identified in Wuhan City, China on January 7, 2020.

So far there have been over 500 cases and 17 related deaths confirmed in China. MOH said cases were confirmed in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United States; and suspected cases in Australia and the Philippines.

Travel restrictions have already been imposed by Wuhan, China; several countries have begun screening direct flights from Wuhan, China.

During the leadership meeting on Wednesday, Minister of Health Emais Roberts said MOH has activated the first operational period, which includes strengthening surveillance efforts at the point of entry and supply first responders to the airport and ports if necessary.

Dr. Roberts said MOH will continue to monitor the outbreak and advise the public on any developments.

President Tommy Remengesau said Palau is being vigilant about the deadly virus.

“We are taking this very seriously and stepping up efforts of surveillance and monitoring both locally and internationally,” he said.

In 2003, Palau banned entry of people from areas that the World Health Organization (WHO) listed under its SARS or (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) travel advisory.

That time, Palau said it is not equipped to deal with an outbreak and also preventing impact on its tourism industry.

The ban also stopped passengers from traveling to Palau from mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore or any other listed SARS-affected through regional hubs such as Guam and Manila. (Bernadette H. Carreon)