A Global Condition: How are Airports Slowing the Spread of Diseases?

At the time of writing, the novel (new) coronavirus (named “2019-nCoV”) has infected over 34,000 people worldwide, spreading beyond China to over 14 different countries and killing over 800, with the first death outside of China occurring in the Philippines. While the vast majority of cases of infection remain in China due to severe travel restrictions imposed by its government, the speed and reach of the virus’s spread beyond the originating country just goes to underline one of the major risks associated with connecting a global population via swift and convenient air travel.

With airports presenting the most likely points of entry for 2019-nCoV carriers, they are the new frontline for curtailing the spread of the virus. The arrival of the new threat comes during flu season, adding influenza to the list of potentially deadly viruses that flight passengers can catch. Accordingly, both individual airports and international aviation groups have been quick to offer guidance to customers and implement initiatives of their own.

 

Planning ahead

Over the past few weeks, institutions such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International (ACI) have been putting out guidance for all airports to follow in their efforts to mitigate the spread of viruses. Their main recommendations include:

  • Development of an airport-wide plan for disease control, covering areas such as employee/passenger communication, physical screening efforts, and enhanced entry/exit controls.
  • Dissemination of all relevant information about diseases, symptoms and control measures via airport signage, announcements, radio and social media.
  • Introduction of targeted screening systems at key points along the passengers’ journey, with particular attention to be given to flights originating in China and other countries with high concentrations of suspected or actual 2019-nCoV cases.
  • Full, unrestricted cooperation between airports and all relevant health authorities and emergency services.

This echoes the advice released from other international aviation groups looking to proactively aid airports at this critical juncture of the 2019-nCoV virus’s development.

 

Stepping up preventative measures

As you might expect, many of the world’s leading airports have wasted no time in adopting these advisory measures, quickly turning up their communicatory and screening efforts in order to slow the spread of any infectious diseases and reassure their customers that the threat is being taken with the appropriate level of seriousness and respect. The following is a small yet illustrative cross-section of actions taken by various international airports around the world.

Timeline for preventative measures:

  • 17th January: US airports San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) work with the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to set up ‘enhanced health screenings’ involving temperature checks and physical checks from trained health professionals.
  • 22nd January: European airports, including London Heathrow (LHR) and Paris Charles De Gaulle, implement screening processes while LHR cordons off a separate area of Terminal 4 to separately screen all passengers from the last flights out of Wuhan, China. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommends all airlines provide Universal Protection Kits to crew flying to/from 2019-nCoV-affected countries.
  • 22nd January: Singapore’s Changi International airport introduces thermal screening for all passengers arriving from China, with special isolation units ready to help any showing symptoms. 35 scanners were deployed across the airport’s four terminals.
  • 26th January: Major UAE airports confirm thermal screening for all flights originating in China. Airport teams assign secure closed gates for this purpose.
  • 28th January: The US CDC expands enhanced health screenings to 20 US airports.
  • 25-28 January: India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation and health authorities set up screening and isolation units initially across India’s seven leading airports, including Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata airports and Chennai, expanding to cover 20 airports across the country. Working in collaboration with the airports, the Indian Government has set up labs for testing viral samples.
  • 29th January: Flights to and from South Korean airports are disinfected more frequently, with flight crews offered hazardous-material (hazmat) suits.

 

Weathering the storm

While the full extent of the spread and severity of 2019-nCoV has yet to be revealed, so far the efforts of international airports around the world have been vital in containing it as much as humanly possible in today’s massively interconnected global society. With airports continuing to work hand-in-glove with health authorities and local government institutions, efforts to track, screen and isolate infectious diseases of this nature will continue to be implemented and enhanced. 

 

This article was created in association with Airport Show taking place in Dubai on 22-24 June 2020. 

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