London Heathrow is the latest major airport to introduce screening for travelers arriving from Wuhan, China, amid deepening concern over the spread of a new strain of coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV.
Teams of health professionals will meet Wuhan passengers as they arrive at the UK airport, which welcomes three direct flights a week from the city.
Heathrow’s move follows the news last week that the USA’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are implementing enhanced health screenings for passengers arriving from Wuhan into three major airports: San Francisco International, John F Kennedy International, New York, and Los Angeles International.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has since announced that it is working with the CDC to process any passengers who exhibit severe symptoms or who may have come into contact with the disease.
While a case of 2019-nCoV has been identified in Washington State in the USA, it is thought that the disease has yet to spread to Canada. On January 22 the Canadian Border Services Agency announced that it is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada in efforts to stop the illness from spreading to the country. International travelers arriving into Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal airports will be asked whether they have visited Wuhan. Those who have will be required to undertake additional screening.
A UK-based health expert has, however, cast doubts on the effectiveness of screening at airports. Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said, “At an airport, the thing you are screening for is temperature …we do not know yet if a person who has been infected with this new virus will have a high temperature when they are at their most infectious and ready to pass on the virus.
“We urgently need to know that information. The answer will tell us whether screening at airports has any value or not.”
Farrar did acknowledge, however, that screening for 2019-nCoV at airports is effective in terms of helping reassure travelers, by sending the message that “authorities are doing their best to contain an outbreak”.
At the time of writing, 17 people had died as a result of contracting 2019-nCoV and 500 cases of the virus had been confirmed, primarily in China. Transportation in and out of Wuhan, a city of 11 million in Hubei province, central China, has been suspended, with neighboring cities announcing plans to follow suit.