Americans heed warning to wash hands often to control coronavirus, Reuters/Ipsos poll finds

By Gabriella Borter and Chris Kahn

(Reuters) – Americans appear to be heeding the warning of health experts to wash their hands more frequently and use disinfectant wipes to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, according to a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll released on Wednesday.

As Covid-19 spreads across the country, nearly half of all Americans say they have started more rigorously cleaning themselves and surfaces they touch to avoid contracting the virus, according to the March 2-3 national poll.

It found that some 42% of respondents were washing their hands and using disinfectant more than usual, and 18% said they have avoided physical contact with others more often.

The rise in caution was recorded days after the virus caused its first U.S. fatality in Washington state and began spreading from person to person on the West Coast.

Some 28% of Americans believe the coronavirus poses an “imminent threat” in the country, according to the survey, a slight increase from the 22% who said they considered the seasonal flu to have the same level of threat.

As few as 9% of the respondents said the coronavirus has had an impact on their work or business, including declining sales, postponed conferences or meetings and problems with supply chains.

Another 84% said it has had no impact, and 7% said they do not know.

The disease, which first surfaced in China in December, has now infected more than 100 people in the United States and killed at least nine. Health experts say it spreads primarily through tiny droplets coughed or sneezed from an infected person and then inhaled by another. Vigilant hygiene can prevent transmission, they say.

On its website, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds and disinfection of surfaces with an alcohol-based cleaner as methods of prevention. Scientists have yet to develop a vaccine to prevent the disease.

Coronavirus can survive on surfaces, such as handrails and door knobs, for “a very long period of time” and be picked up by hand that way, though the virus is “very susceptible” to cleaning products, Dr. Christopher Braden, deputy director of the emerging and zoonotic infectious disease center at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters on Friday.

Health officials also recommend that people avoid touching their face, eyes or mouth, and stay home from work if they feel ill.

The general public’s risk of exposure remains low, the CDC says, but that risk is elevated for healthcare workers and people who live in communities where spread is occurring, such as in Washington and California.

The number of coronavirus cases diagnosed in Washington state rose on Tuesday to 27, including nine deaths in the largest U.S. outbreak to emerge from local transmission. That was up from 18 cases and six deaths a day earlier, state health authorities reported.

Only a small minority of Americans say they have pursued more deliberate ways of avoiding the virus, according to the survey. As few as 5% said they are working from home, 6% said they have canceled or altered travel plans and 8% said they have purchased surgical masks.

Click here for the poll results

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)

Coronavirus travel: national advice not all of a piece

LONDON (Reuters) – Should travelers avoid parts of the world near coronavirus hotspots? Or go – but then tread carefully? The official advice they receive may depend on whether they live in Amsterdam, Helsinki, Madrid or Lagos.

As the new coronavirus spreads from China, travel guidelines being issued by governments across the world all express notes of growing caution. But they contain subtle differences on where to avoid, how to behave and what to do after a trip.

With few exceptions, the prevailing advice of national authorities is to avoid Hubei province – epicenter of an outbreak that has now infected 80,000 people worldwide – and to reduce Chinese travel to the bare minimum.

Once inside China, Swiss travelers for example are urged by their government to avoid large gatherings and “cough or sneeze into a tissue, or use the crook of your arm”. France tells its nationals not to eat raw meat or visit animal markets.

The Spanish Foreign Ministry also urges against contact with animals in China and suggests making sure that you stay at least one meter away from the next person.

For travelers to Italy – the country most badly hit by the virus in Europe – the Dutch government recommends that its citizens avoid areas already locked down by local authorities and only travel to parts of the wider Lombardy region around the closed-off towns if necessary. The Finnish Foreign Ministry advice on Italy is simply to “take special care”.

Differences also emerge in the advice to travelers on their return from an affected area.

Germany’s main authority for infectious diseases tells those returning with symptoms from outbreak regions in Italy to see a doctor and call prior to their visit. But France asks such people not to visit the doctor but to call emergency services.

Britain urges its nationals to “self-isolate” at home if they have been to the areas quarantined by Italy whether or not they have symptoms. The Danish Health Authority currently stipulates no routine quarantine or isolation of people who have traveled to China or other places hit by the outbreak.

Countries outside Europe take different stances. Turkey advises against all but essential travel to China but has not yet issued travel advice on Italy.

Nigeria has a voluntary two-week self-quarantine in place for all passengers arriving from China or any country with “a major outbreak”. Guidance for returning air passengers says “try to avoid” going out but wear a mask if you do.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; compiled by Mark John; Editing by Gareth Jones)

U.S. issues China travel advisory amid increased tensions

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags are set up for a meeting during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao at China's Ministry of Transport in Beijing, China April 27, 2018. Picture taken April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Thursday renewed its warning for U.S. citizens traveling in China to exercise increased caution due to “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” amid heightened diplomatic tensions over the arrest in Canada of a Chinese technology company executive.

The updated travel advisory maintains the warning at “Level 2” but also warns about extra security checks and increased police presence in the Xinjiang Uighur and Tibet Autonomous Regions.

The advisory follows the detentions by Chinese authorities in December of Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat and an adviser with the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, and businessman Michael Spavor. China says both men were suspected of endangering state security.

Tensions with China increased after Canadian police arrested Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on Dec. 1 in Vancouver at the request of the United States.

U.S. prosecutors have accused her of misleading banks about transactions linked to Iran, putting the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.

Earlier on Thursday, China’s top prosecutor said the two Canadians had “without a doubt” violated the law.

In its previous travel advisory for China issued on Jan. 22 last year, the State Department urged Americans to “exercise increased caution” in the country because of “the arbitrary enforcement of local laws and special restrictions on dual U.S.-Chinese nationals.”

The latest advisory repeats that warning but adds: “Extra security measures, such as security checks and increased levels of police presence, are common in the Xinjiang Uighur and Tibet Autonomous Regions. Authorities may impose curfews and travel restrictions on short notice.”

The advisory also warns about China’s use of “exit bans” that would prohibit U.S. citizens from leaving the country, sometimes keeping them in China for years.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing in Beijing on Friday that China always welcomes foreigners, including Americans, but expects them to respect and abide by Chinese law.

“The U.S. side’s issuance of this travel advisory frankly does not hold water,” Lu said.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Indonesia shrinks danger zone around grumbling Bali volcano

Mount Agung volcano erupts as seen from Kubu, Karangasem Regency, Bali, Indonesia, December 1, 2017.

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia shrank the exclusion zone around a grumbling volcano on the resort island of Bali on Thursday after fears of an imminent eruption, allowing farmers to return to their homes.

The 3,000-meter Mount Agung remains on alert for a major eruption, but officials said the danger zone around the crater would be reduced to a six-km (four-mile) radius from 10 km.

“Mount Agung remains in an eruption phase and could affect settlements. All parties are urged to remain cautious,” Agung Pribadi, press relations officer at the natural resources ministry, said in a statement.

The volcano has been spewing lava and ash since late November, when authorities raised the alert status to the highest.

Bali airport was closed for three days, leaving thousands of tourists stranded and prompting others to cancel their year-end holiday plans.

(Reporting by Wilda Asmarini; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Nick Macfie)