Coronavirus Fears Over 'Zero Checks' Made On Passengers Flying From Italy To UK

Boris Johnson's government is following advice that screening in an airport "doesn’t really have much effect”.

Passengers flying to the UK from high-risk countries such as Italy have raised concerns about a lack of checks for coronavirus at airports.

One passenger travelling into Gatwick tweeted that they had experienced “zero checks” after arriving from Milan on Sunday, raising concerns online and drawing attention to similar stories of arrival into other airports.

All of Italy has now been placed under lockdown as the crisis in the country worsens.

Italy has registered 1,807 more confirmed cases as of Monday evening, for a national total of 9,172, overtaking South Korea as the country with the most cases outside China.

The number of people with the virus who died increased to 463.

On Monday, Boris Johnson defended the lack of screening of passengers and pointed to the government’s chief scientific adviser stating “temperature screening in an airport doesn’t really have much effect”.

Alongside a picture of arrivals at Gatwick, Federico Gatti wrote: “Just landed in London from Milan. Zero checks. No info. How can it be possible?”

Other passengers arriving into the London airport reiterated their experience of “zero checks”, sharing pictures of the posters relating to coronavirus and pointing out how easily they could be missed.

A Gatwick spokesperson said: “Gatwick is following the advice of Public Health England in full and – like other UK airports - has an advanced monitoring process in place for direct flights from affected areas, including Italy. The latest advice from Public Health England for passengers is also displayed throughout the terminals and enhanced cleaning is taking place in public areas across the airport.

“The airport remains in regular contact with the relevant authorities to ensure that all the appropriate processes are in place and we will continue to follow their advice on this matter in full.”

Public Health England (PHE) told HuffPost UK that new measures had been introduced on flights to and from Italy, with processes in place for northern Italy since March 4, and the same routine is to be introduced for the rest of the country by March 11.

These include cabin crew receiving a briefing on symptoms and what to do if a passenger reports symptoms, and the captain making a call ahead to warn of any illness in order to allow for an early risk assessment.

If anyone on the flight is symptomatic, a general aircraft declaration (GAD) must be submitted to allow for a public health risk assessment and any required action to be taken before the flight disembarks at its destination.

There have been complaints made online about a number of airports in England after passengers were reportedly allowed to walk into the country with little or no checks made.
There have been complaints made online about a number of airports in England after passengers were reportedly allowed to walk into the country with little or no checks made.

All flights arriving from Italy are met with PHE posters and leaflets at ports in nine different languages as well as information on established local arrangements for ensuring unwell passengers are taken care of.

PHE has also sent a bespoke poster for Italy to all airports, seaports and international train terminals to provide clarity to passengers on which areas of Italy are affected.

A spokesperson for PHE did not respond to further questions about what processes were in place for passengers from other destinations, and did not clarify why different airports worldwide were approaching screening for, and safety measures around, the virus in a different way.

It might have found itself at the centre of a Twitter-storm on Sunday, but Gatwick is by no means the only airport in the country which has attracted negative attention online for its handling of the outbreak.

Another Twitter user, Michael Keohan, wrote: “Not to scaremonger – but I’ve just landed back from Italy at Heathrow. No thermal imaging, no info on Covid-19; just a bit of hand sanitiser if you fancied it. Unreal!”

A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport said: “The welfare of our passengers and colleagues is our top priority. A dedicated Public Health England team is operating at Heathrow to respond to any incidents at the airport, and we are working closely with them to ensure our colleagues are following their latest guidance in its entirety to protect themselves and our passengers.

“In line with Public Health England’s advice, we have enhanced thorough cleaning processes, increased the availability and provision of hand sanitisers for our colleagues and continue to advise anyone working or travelling through the airport to follow the government’s advice to maintain good hand hygiene.”

Concerns about flights from other affected areas have also been raised at airports such as Manchester.

A spokesperson for MAG (Manchester Airports Group), which operates Manchester, East Midlands, and Stansted airports, said: “The safety and security of passengers and staff will always be our number one priority. We are following guidance from Public Health England.

“The vast majority of flights scheduled are currently arriving and departing as planned. Posters and leaflets are in place to give customers the latest public health guidance, including information about what they should do if they feel unwell on their return.

“We will continue to work with PHE to help determine what further steps would need to be taken, should circumstances change in the future.”

Another passenger, this time at Luton Airport, showed a crowded room full of passengers at a boarding gate waiting to board.

The customer complained that they had been held for “hours”, and was allegedly told by a member of staff that there was no coronavirus in the UK.

A spokesperson for London Luton Airport said: “London Luton Airport continues to implement all guidance from Public Health England.

“This includes an enhanced cleaning regime and the provision of hand sanitiser throughout the terminal as well as displaying the latest public health information across the airport.”

The prime minister earlier said airlines are being allowed to continue flying between the UK and Italy because measures must be taken “at the right time”,

British Airways has cancelled flights to and from Milan and Venice, but easyJet and Ryanair are continuing to fly to and from parts of northern Italy where there were restrictions on the movements of residents before a wider crackdown was announced.

Johnson said: “It is really vital, as we take these steps to protect ourselves and encourage everybody to protect everybody else, that we do it at the right time.

“It’s not what you do – of course, it’s partly what you do – but it’s when you do it.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser to the government, spoke about why passengers arriving on flights from Italy are not being routinely screened for symptoms.

He said: “Temperature screening in an airport doesn’t really have much effect.”

Johnson added: “As Patrick said, what’s happening in other countries doesn’t necessarily mirror what’s happening here in the UK and that is why we’re following the scientific evidence in the way that we are.”


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