How the Aviation Industry is Dealing with the Wuhan Virus

Airports, and airlines alike, are stepping up their efforts to prevent any further outbreak of the deadly Wuhan Virus that has already killed 17 people, with hundreds more cases already reported. There have already been confirmed cases reported in China, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Macau, and even the United States among others.

Photo by CNN.

Airlines such as Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific and Taiwan's China Airlines have even gone so far as to cancelling entire flight schedules to and from Wuhan's airport (WUH/ZHHH) until the end of February, and they may even extend those cancellations if the outbreak shows no signs of improving. The airline's announcements followed a decision by the Chinese government to limit travel from Wuhan, effectively putting the city under mandatory quarantine. Other vehicles of commerce and transportation, including boats and buses have also been told to divert to avoid the city, which sits on the Yangtze River.

China also said in a statement that they would be conducting nationwide screening and improve monitoring of many national transportation hubs, including multiple large airports, train stations, bus stops, in an effort to minimize the spread of the disease. And if that's not bad enough, the outbreak of the virus came at the worst possible time: Chinese New Year, where some estimated around 80 million people would be traveling by plane to get to their destinations for the national holiday.

Major hubs elsewhere like London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL) increased monitoring of passengers disembarking flights from Wuhan, when concern about the spread of the illness mounted last week.

Here's a quick overview of airports and airlines around the world on how they've been dealing with the outbreak:

In response to Cathay Union leaders' concerns about cabin crew personnel facing infection, the Hong Kong based airline Cathay Pacific said on Wednesday, January 15th, said that staff could wear protective face masks on flights to China if they wished. The airline’s low cost subsidiary feeder airline, Cathay Dragon, is also going to be suspending flights to Wuhan from Friday until Feb. 29. Macau's government canceled the Lunar New Year celebrations and in a statement, they announced that authorities will prevent people showing symptoms of the virus from trying to leave.

Photo by David Zhang │ AeroNewsX

In Taiwan, China Airlines and Mandarin Airlines Co., are also suspending flights to Wuhan until the end of February. Some crew members on board the airlines, along with Tigerair, are wearing face masks while on duty, according to a statement released on Thursday. There’s also an “appropriate quantity” of masks for passengers available to them in airports and aircraft, if needed, a representative said.

In South Korea, Korean Air Lines provided hazardous-materials suits for crew, while Korean low-cost carrier T'way Air delayed their plans to begin service on a new route from Seoul Incheon (ICN/RKSI) to Wuhan. The country confirmed its first infection on Monday, January 20. Even North Korea has taken action to prevent the spread of the disease, closing their borders to any foreign tourists for the foreseeable future.

In the United States, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has implemented screening for arrivals at airports in San Francisco (SFO/KSFO), New York (JFK/KJFK, and EWR/KEWR), as well as Los Angeles (LAX/KLAX), and has since expanded that list to Atlanta (ATL/KATL), and Chicago (ORD/KORD). The CDC said in a statement that it's closely monitoring the outbreak and there are ongoing investigations into the “rapidly evolving situation.” The U.S. legacy carrier, United Airlines is most exposed to the China market, due to their extensive route networks into multiple large Chinese cities, many of which are large, national transportation hubs.

In Europe, British efforts were sent to Europe's busiest airport, London Heathrow (LHR/EGLL), including a doctor and medical inspector, to greet passengers from Wuhan to monitor for signs of the virus and provide information to passengers about symptoms. The checks concern three flights a week operated by China Southern Airlines, based in Guangzhou, China. Other efforts have been launched in Italy, where the Italian Health Ministry said procedures are in force at Rome Fiumicino airport (FCO/LIRF), which has direct flights to Wuhan. The overall surveillance of passengers is being tightened, and people will be subject to body temperature checks at the airport.

Photo by Karam Sodhi │ AeroNewsX

Although while no reported cases have been confirmed in Singapore, Changi Airport, (SIN/WSSS) which receives over 400 arrivals a week from China, is increasing their surveillance screening for any potential symptoms displayed from any and on all passengers arriving from the country. Singapore Airlines' low-cost subsidiary, Scoot, has said that disinfectants, hand sanitizers and surgical masks are being supplied on all flights to China. Scoot said in a statement that an aircraft disinfection protocol has been implemented for flights where suspected cases have been reported.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Japan will increase the intensity and frequency of their quarantine and testing, while Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said in a statement that health questionnaires were given to arriving passengers disembarking from Wuhan by plane and that people should inform the authorities if they’re showing any potential symptoms of the virus. Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs set the level of risk for infection in Wuhan to a level 2 status, and urged citizens to avoid doing any unnecessary travel to the region.

Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM/VABB), has increased surveillance measures, and Delhi Airport staff are checking inbound passengers from any potentially affected areas.

In Malaysia, low-cost carrier AirAsia is offering travelers refunds for bookings on flights to and from Wuhan before Feb. 15, or the option to hold their booking(s) in flight credits for trips before Feb. 29, according to a travel statement on AirAsia's website.

Photo by Duy Khang Tran │ AeroNewsX

Indonesian airports and airlines have been asked to take precautionary measures such as screening disembarking international passengers with thermal scanners (similar to those deployed by Singapore's Changi Airport). Airlines are having to prescribe health documents and manifests after landing and present to airport authorities upon arrival, Indonesian Director General of Civil Aviation, Polana Pramesti said.

Equipment to measure body temperature, like those used by Singapore and Indonesia are in place to screen passengers at Vietnam's Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport (HAN/VVNB), according to a statement from the government's website, which said monitoring will be increased during the Lunar New Year holidays as the country anticipates there to be a greater number of arrivals and departures from the airport, and from airports in China, as well.

Furthermore, in Africa, social health services, such as Nigeria's center for disease control informed any travelers arriving from Wuhan, or any other part of China that may have been affected by the outbreak, to report to a medical facility if they suspect any symptoms, and said that surveillance has been increased at all points of entry into the country. South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases recommended testing anyone who has recently visited Wuhan and is displaying symptoms such as a high fever and/or a cough.

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