China and countries around the world, including the US and Canada, are moving quickly to contain the spread of the Coronavirus that has killed 81 people and infected at more than 2,700 to date.
More than 56 million people in almost 20 Chinese cities - including Wuhan, capital of Hubei province where the virus originated - have been under a strict lockdown, introduced amid fears the transmission rate will balloon as hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens travel during Lunar New Year celebrations.
Do these impacts potentially impact worldwide shipping and ports in North America? The US Department of Agriculture and CIFA in Canada are tasked with the safety of imported food products. International food imports are vetted - particularly beef or foodstuffs, including processed food products - coming from the impacted Chinese regions. It remains unlikely that agricultural products would be accepted if imported from these regions. The virus is a respiratory ailment, transmitted from person to person. If vessel crew have been exposed, the US and Canadian quarantine procedures are quite effective: generally, ports receive at least 96 hours of notice in advance of arrival, and can prepare accordingly. Crew are also vetted upon arrival and can be quarantined by federal agencies. A bigger risk lies with stowaways who may be infected or are carriers. Stowaway mitigation processes have been in place for a number of years, and have proven to be effective in seaports.
It is unlikely that this new virus could enter the country through a seaport. If the disease is untreated, it could be fatal during a voyage and potential virus carriers will be checked by immigration regarding were they come from, especially if the vessel is coming from ports servicing the areas most impacted by Coronavirus. Vigilance is always key. Aviation is the most significant mode of transportation impacted right now in terms of public health. However, any concerns regarding the health of seafarers arriving from overseas, as well as suspect cargo, should be immediately reported to federal health authorities.