The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday afternoon that it would start screening arriving passengers at three U.S. airports for signs of a mysterious coronavirus which may be linked to SARS and that causes pneumonia-like symptoms in its victims. As many as 1,700 people have been sickened and at least two people have died from the yet to be identified virus in Wuhan, China where the outbreak is centred.
The new and incredibly rare “enhanced health screenings” were introduced at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports on Friday evening. China Southern Airlines flies direct from Wuhan to San Francisco, whereas there are popular connecting services from the central Chinese city to both New York JFK and Los Angeles.
The last time the CDC introduced routine passenger screening was during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
The CDC said it will deploy around 100 extra staffers to the three airport’s and says the screening process will take a multi-layered approach. Typically, this ranges from using thermal imaging cameras to identify passengers with a fever, collecting passenger questionnaires and relying on airline staff to report suspicions prior to arrival.
“To further protect the health of the American public during the emergence of this novel coronavirus, CDC is beginning entry screening at three ports of entry,” explained Martin Cetron, M.D., Director of CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.
“Investigations into this novel coronavirus are ongoing and we are monitoring and responding to this evolving situation,” he continued.
Nonetheless, the CDC deems the threat of the virus (dubbed ‘2019-nCoV’) as “low”, echoing an assessment made by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In a recent update, the WHO said it does not currently recommend travellers take any specific measures.
Many of those sickened by the virus had visited a seafood market in Wuhan, leading authorities to believe that this is the source of the new illness. A new theory has pegged the blame on bats. No human-to-human transmission has yet been identified since the virus emerged in December 2019.
While only 45 laboratory-confirmed cases have been identified some experts believe as many as 1,700 may have been infected.
In the last week, cases of the virus have been detected in both Thailand and Japan. The WHO warns that further cases should be expected to emerge outside of China in the coming weeks. Health authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore have been screening passengers from Wuhan since December and a number of people have been quarantined – none of those hospitalised has been found to have the virus.
Last week, Cathay Pacific confirmed it would allow flight attendants working flights to Wuhan to wear surgical facemasks as an additional protection measure.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.