Airlines and airports step up checks for Wuhan virus; at least one airline equips planes with hazmat suits

Airport officials use thermal imaging to screen passengers arriving in India from China, in the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi on Jan 21, 2020. PHOTO: INDIAN MINISTRY OF CIVIL AVIATION

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - The travel industry is stepping up precautionary measures against the virus originating from central China that has killed four people and infected hundreds, with at least one airline starting to equip planes with hazardous-materials suits for cabin crew.

In China, President Xi Jinping ordered resolute efforts to curb the spread of the illness since the disease was first detected in Wuhan, a city of 11 million. Wuhan is now under heavy screening: People found to have symptoms like fever at travel checkpoints are being stopped from boarding planes and trains.

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific Airways said it will be distributing health declaration forms and providing face masks and antiseptic wipes at boarding gates for travellers from Wuhan.

Singapore's Changi Airport is stepping up surveillance of all passengers from China, rather than just those arriving from Wuhan, from Wednesday (Jan 22).

Complicating matters, hundreds of millions of Chinese are preparing for the Chinese New Year holidays that begin on Friday, when some three billion trips are expected to take place throughout that week, the world's biggest human migration.

More than 200 people have been confirmed to be infected, with cases detected in Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, at the University of Sydney, said "simple quarantine and isolation" are the most effective means of tackling outbreaks such as these for now.

Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport rolled out increased surveillance measures.

Airports in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco began screening for the virus on Friday.

Korean Air Lines is equipping planes with hazmat suits and plans to carry out daily disinfection of planes flying to Wuhan - as opposed to monthly. The country saw its first confirmed case of the new coronavirus on Monday.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the country will step up the use of quarantine and testing.

Australian health authorities will help staff monitor travellers returning to Sydney Airport from Wuhan.

European carriers are not imposing any travel restrictions yet, but British Airways said it is monitoring the situation closely. London Heathrow spokesman Weston Macklem said the airport was awaiting instructions from the public health authorities.

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