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Airlines, airports on the alert as disease spreads
AIRPORTS and airlines are taking steps to protect staff and passengers amid heightened concern over the outbreak of a new virus originating from the Chinese city of Wuhan. At least nine people have died and hundreds more have been infected, including the first confirmed case in the US.
The level of alarm is rising as the coronavirus spreads. China said it will conduct nationwide screening and improve monitoring of transportation links for the Chinese New Year holidays, which start at the end of this week. That complicates efforts to contain the virus as hundreds of millions of people travel during the period, the biggest annual migration of humans on the planet. People found to have symptoms such as fever at travel checkpoints are being stopped from boarding planes and trains.
Here's a look at how airports and airlines around the world are reacting:
- Hong Kong: The city's Airport Authority said planes arriving from Wuhan - roughly a two-hour flight away - will be parked at a designated area and that a cleaning contractor will disinfect the terminal where passengers are arriving from the city, which is the capital of Hubei province. Cleaning and disinfection in the airport will also be stepped up as a whole, it said.
Flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, in response to complaints from its cabin crew union about the risk of "catastrophic" infection, on Wednesday said staff could wear protective face masks on flights to China if they wanted. The airline is also waiving rebooking, rerouting and refund charges for all tickets issued before Jan 21 for travel to or from Wuhan between Jan 21 and Feb 15.
- South Korea: Korean Air Lines Co is providing hazardous-materials suits for crew on planes and plans to disinfect aircraft flying to Wuhan daily, as opposed to monthly. The country confirmed its first infection on Monday.
- North Korea: The county has temporarily closed its borders to all foreign tourists as a precaution against the virus, according to travel agent Young Pioneer Tours. "Further details are yet to be confirmed by our travel partners in North Korea," it said.
- Singapore: Changi Airport is increasing surveillance on all passengers from China, rather than just those arriving from Wuhan. Low-cost carrier Scoot said it has made arrangements to distribute a health advisory to all passengers arriving from Wuhan. Disinfectants, hand sanitisers and surgical masks are being supplied on all China flights. Scoot said it has an aircraft disinfection protocol in place for flights where suspected cases have been reported.
- Japan: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the country will step up quarantine and testing, while Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said on Tuesday that health questionnaires would be given to passengers arriving from Wuhan by plane and that people should inform authorities if they are not feeling well on arrival.
- India: Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharak International Airport has increased surveillance measures. Delhi Airport staff are checking inbound passengers from affected areas, it said in a statement.
- Australia: Health authorities will help staff to monitor travellers returning from Wuhan.
- Indonesia: Airports and airlines have been asked to take precautionary measures such as screening international passengers with thermal scanners. Airlines must provide health documents and manifests after landing, director general of civil aviation Polana Pramesti said in a statement.
- Vietnam: Equipment to measure body temperature is in place to screen passengers at Hanoi's Noi Bai International Airport, according to a statement on the government website, which said monitoring will be increased during the Chinese New Year holidays as there will be a greater number of flights.
- United Kingdom: Heathrow spokes-man Weston Macklem said the airport was awaiting instructions from public health authorities. British Airways Plc said it is monitoring the situation closely.
- Italy: The Health Ministry said procedures are in force at Rome Fiu-micino airport, which has direct flights to Wuhan, to check for symptomatic cases on flights arriving from the Chinese city. Surveillance of passengers is being strengthened and arrivals will be subject to body temperature checks at the airport, it said.
- Nigeria: The country's centre for disease control advised travellers coming from Wuhan to report to a medical facility if they feel ill and said that surveillance has been intensified at all points of entry.
- South Africa: The National Institute for Communicable Diseases recommended testing anyone who has recently visited Wuhan and is displaying symptoms such as fever and cough.
- United States: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US implemented health screening for arrivals at airports in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles on Jan 17, and is expanding that to Atlanta and Chicago this week. CDC said it is closely monitoring the outbreak and there are ongoing investigations into the "rapidly evolving situation". BLOOMBERG