Photo by Jing Zhang for United Nations

Keeping People and Trade Moving During a Global Disease Outbreak – How Transport is Dealing with Novel Coronavirus

Airports Council International (ACI) World has highlighted guidance for airports following the recent Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak.

On January 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a situation report noting that the risk was “very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level.” The statement added that WHO had previously reported “incorrectly” that the global risk was “moderate”.

At the time of writing (28.01.2020), Novel Coronavirus had killed more than 100 people and infected at least 5,000. It had spread to 16 countries, and in some cases, such as in Germany, the virus had been discovered in people who had not travelled to China but had caught the virus from someone who had. While sufferers are most infectious when displaying symptoms, experts say the virus can also be transmitted before symptoms become obvious.

As the global response to the outbreak continues, it is expected that national regulators and health authorities will introduce measures directly affecting airports and the aviation industry more broadly.

The ACI World Advisory Bulletin: Transmission of Communicable Diseases is intended as guidance for airports that can be modified to the local situation as necessary and used in discussion with local authorities and national regulators when determining appropriate actions.

The top priority should be the swift agreement between the airport and the relevant authority of responsibility and accountability for measures.

ACI World’s guidance complements region-specific advice issued by ACI Asia Pacific to its members this week.

“The health and welfare of travelers, staff and the public, and to reduce the opportunities for dissemination of communicable diseases, are the priorities for the aviation industry following the recent novel coronavirus outbreak,” ACI World Director General Angela Gittens said.

“The guidance we have issued reiterates a number of options and best practices that airports and national authorities can use to protect against communicable diseases that might pose a serious risk to public health.

“The recommendations are designed to reduce exposure to an infectious agent at airports and to improve the response to health-related emergencies by establishing standards and procedures for rapid decision-making and action.”

The responsibility for management of the risk of communicable diseases at airports rests primarily with the local/regional/national public health authority and the relevant airport operator. If more than one airport is operated by the same organization, plans should be prepared for each airport, in line with the recommendations contained in this document. But together with its national authorities, each airport operator can play its part towards achieving greater coordination of preparedness measures.

ACI recommends an airport preparedness plan address communication, screening, logistics, equipment, entry/exit controls, and coordination with the local/regional/national public health authority. A particularly important requirement is for adequate supplies of appropriate personal protective equipment (including hand-washing facilities or sanitizing gels) to be available for airport staff.

A range of screening methods is available, including visual inspection, questionnaire and temperature measurement (using thermal scanners or other suitable methods). Travelers determined at screening to be at increased risk of having a communicable disease posing a potentially serious public health risk should undergo secondary screening by a medical practitioner.

If the public health authority determines that screening is to be employed, it should discuss the issues with the airport operator in order to develop acceptable plans. Costs associated with providing screening equipment and airport space and infrastructure support would normally be met by the public health authority.

Many airports and other public transport have been shut down in the Hubei region, where the virus is believed to have originated. Several other regions in China have taken similar action. Meanwhile, airports around the world are taking additional measures to help stop the global spread of Novel Coronavirus. For example, the United States has increased the number of airports monitoring symptoms from the initial five announced last week to 20, and U.K. flag carrier British Airways has halted services with mainland China.

On January 28, Hong Kong announced that it is stopping cross-border travel between the city and mainland China. This includes a complete cessation of the high-speed trains and ferries that cross the border from January 30. Flights will also be affected although some will still operate under strict conditions.

Meanwhile, a germ-killing robot that sanitizes airplanes is being offered at no expense to airlines at select U.S. airports during this crisis. GermFalcon, developed by Dimer UVC Innovations, was specifically created to improve airplane hygiene industry-wide. The system uses ultraviolet-C (UVC) light to kill viruses, bacteria, and superbugs on surfaces and in the surrounding air.

Designed to navigate an airplane cabin, GermFalcon’s strategically placed UVC lamps expose all high-touch surfaces to germicidal UVC light. UVC light is commonly used for disinfection of air, water, and surfaces in healthcare facilities. It has been proven safe and highly effective in eliminating germs that cause infectious diseases, including coronavirus, influenza, and Ebola.

“The threat of coronavirus infecting innocent passengers on an airplane is one we must work to eliminate immediately,” said Dimer Co-Founder Elliot Kreitenberg. “This is a dangerous virus that has already taken lives.” GermFalcon is currently being offered at no expense to contribute to emergency response efforts at Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York-JFK airports.

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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