China’s quarantine authorities said on Wednesday that they will offer free health screenings for travellers arriving from Singapore amid an outbreak of the Zika virus in the country.
The quarantine bureau did not specify whether the screenings would be mandatory.
The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said all international travel healthcare centres would offer “free Zika screening and tests” to all individuals arriving from countries where local Zika transmission had been confirmed. It also said that it expects all inspection and quarantine agencies to “strengthen joint prevention and control.”
The administration said in a statement on its website that China is also stepping up inspections of goods arriving from Singapore.
Singapore is the only country in Asia with an active transmission of the Zika virus, which puts pregnant women in particular at risk. Over 240 locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in Singapore have been confirmed, including in over 20 Chinese national citizens living in the country.
China is one of Singapore’s top overseas markets and the outbreak of the Zika virus has led to a slump in overall exports, slowing down economic growth in both countries.
Mr Francis Tan, an economist at United Overseas Bank in Singapore, said: “If this continues, certainly it will have a negative impact, but it’s hard to quantify in percentage terms or dollar value.”
Singapore reported its first locally-transmitted Zika infection in late August. The number of confirmed cases quickly rose to 115 by September 1.
Malaysia on Wednesday confirmed its first case of Zika in a pregnant 27-year old woman.
China, the United States and Australia are among several countries which have warned pregnant women or those trying to conceive not to travel to Singapore.
Most international airports in China have thermal scanners that are able to screen passengers for fever as they pass through customs.
The Zika virus has spread through the Caribbean and South America since late last year. Zika is carried by mosquitoes which transmit the virus to humans. Approximately 80 per cent of people infected have no symptoms.
It has been linked to microcephaly – a severe birth defect in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.
Zika was first shown to cause microcephaly last fall in Brazil where over 1800 cases of microcephaly have since been confirmed.
In adults, Zika infections have also shown to cause a rare neurological syndrome known as Guillain-Barre, in addition to other neurological disorders.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared Zika an international public health emergency. WHO said on Monday that all pregnant women with or without fever must be screened for Zika if they live in or have travelled to countries with localised infection.
There is at present no vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus.