How airports are screening travelers for deadly new coronavirus-type disease

Jan 24, 2020

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As the deadly strain of coronavirus continues to spread, airports across the world are amping up screening.

As of 22 January, five U.S. airports — Chicago O’Hare (ORD), Atlanta (ATL), New York-JFK, San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) — and London Heathrow are screening for signs of infection. All of these airports are popular international connection hubs. Only JFK and SFO have direct flights to and from Wuhan (WUH), although those flights have been canceled.

In additional to the U.S. airports and LHR, numerous other international airports are increasing screenings around the world.

Related: What a coronavirus outbreak means for travelers 

If you’re planning to travel internationally — especially to or from China and other cities in Asia — here’s what you can expect when going through customs.

The screening process

First, people on flights scheduled from Wuhan to non-screening U.S. airports were being redirected to one of the five airports that are conducting screenings. That means a passenger traveling from Wuhan who caught a connecting flight in Shanghai that would have landed in Boston (BOS) would have been rerouted to JFK for screening, CDC officials said.

That means many airlines had to reissue tickets and redirect passengers from around the world.

Regardless, travel to, through and from the city of Wuhan and two other cities in China (Huanggang and Ezhou) is shut down until further notice. Officials are working to contain the virus in an effort to stop and slow its spread.

When it comes to the screenings, health officials in the U.S. and U.K. are asking travellers about their symptoms, places they’ve visited and taking temperatures.

If a traveller is suspected of having contracted the virus, they will be transported to a predesignated facility for further screening. This could take anywhere from a couple of hours to an entire day, as testing requires specimens to be collected and sent to the CDC.

Travellers who did not display any symptoms during the screening process will be given a card with further information on what to do and who to contact if they do develop any of the symptoms.

Before travel to and from Wuhan was shut down, the screening process was intense. Passengers were required to go through electronic temperature sensors before boarding any flights according to the South China Morning Post. Anyone with a detected temperature of over 100 degrees was required to go through a manual screening and, if fever was confirmed, then they were required to spend a period of time in a quarantine facility.

Featured photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images.

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