Coronavirus: London Heathrow airport baggage handlers test positive for Covid-19

A woman wears a surgical mask as she walks through Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, March 6, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Coronavirus has reached Europe's busiest airport, after two British Airways baggage handlers at London Heathrow tested positive for the disease.

The affected workers are recovering in isolation at home, British Airways parent IAG said on Friday (March 6) in an email.

A small number of the luggage handlers' colleagues are also being tested, a person familiar with the matter said.

The outbreak's presence at such a heavily taraversed junction is likely to escalate concerns about air travel after the virus' spread from Asia caused consumers in Europe and the US to pull back.

The International Air Transport Association warned this week that carriers may lose US$113 billion (S$155 billion) in sales this year, almost four times greater than its estimate of the epidemic's impact from just two weeks earlier.

"The welfare of our passengers and colleagues is our top priority," a Heathrow said in an e-mailed statement.

A dedicated team from Public Health England, the health agency that confirmed the cases, is in place at Heathrow to respond to any incidents, the company said.

The airport is also cleaning surfaces and providing hand sanitisers to workers "to protect themselves and our passengers."

British Airways, the biggest operator at London Heathrow, has already scrapped all flights to China through April, and said it will pare back on destinations in Europe, Japan and South Korea.

It has also reduced services on its usually lucrative transatlantic route to New York, as companies restrict business travel and holidaymakers postpone plans.

FURTHER PROCEDURES

The carrier this week announced that it would scrap change fees on all new bookings made between March 3 and March 16, to spur travellers to book tickets.

British Airways is following procedures set in place by Public Health England, the person said. Heathrow has also provided training and equipment to a small number of staff who may be called to the scene of a suspected case.

A spokesman for Public Health England said that Heathrow already has enhanced monitoring for certain flights and that while it won't comment on individual cases, in any positive test the department conducts contact tracing, aimed at locating everyone the person has made contact with.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care, which oversees the National Health Service, said it would only look to impose extra measures if there was a continuous spread among the community.

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