January 29, 2020
-Updated February 25, 2020
Reports coming out of one of Canada’s busiest airports, Toronto Pearson International Airport, indicate that there has been no medical screening of hundreds of passengers arriving on flights from China (1). Two passengers coming in from China on January 22, 2020 tested positive for Coronavirus. As for passengers on the flight, including those sitting close to the infected couple, Toronto Public Health says they have only been able to track down a few of those passengers (2).
According to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO), a specialized UN agency that regulates all airline travel and passenger safety, it is not the role of airline staff or handling agents to screen and manage travelers who may have a communicable disease. The ICAO is advised by the WHO (World Health Organization), and the affected state is responsible for all passenger screening upon exiting the area (3).
To reduce the risk of export from an affected State of a disease causing, or with potential to cause, a public health emergency of international concern, the national public health authority of an affected contracting State, in coordination with the aviation sector and as advised by the WHO, should develop a national exit screening plan at its international airports, to be applied uniformly to all individuals attempting to leave the State.
What is most concerning about the ICAO guidelines is their policy regarding passenger screening during a Global Pandemic:
Note 3.— Quarantine of large numbers of travellers [sic] is not likely to be justified, and may be difficult to implement. After the acute phase, it is also not likely to significantly prevent the spread of a major disease outbreak.
Is this their rational for the lack of screening at Canadian airports? There are images of healthcare workers in affected outbreak zones in China dressed in hazmat suits. Are we now past the point of no return? Considering that symptoms can vary within even an acute stage of illness, who really knows (4)?
In addition, the problem here isn’t just who is responsible for screening, it’s also that current screening methods are ineffective (5). So far, many airports have been checking people’s temperatures and relying on people to self-report symptoms. It has already been confirmed that those who have the virus have been passing these tests. In Canada, airport screening was only ramped up recently (6)(7)(8)(9).
A 10-year-old boy whose family had traveled to Wuhan over a month ago has likely been spreading the virus without exhibiting any symptoms at all. His parents, who are also infected, had been screened at the airport but passed the “temperature screening.” The family also passed the virus to another family member who had not traveled. This proves that passenger screening is ineffective. And the authorities know this! The virus is already here (10)(11)(12)!
Reports indicate that the Wuhan Coronavirus has likely been circulating in China prior to December 1st, 2019 (33)(13). It is highly unlikely that this virus has not already spread around the globe, largely undetected! Some of the symptoms can be mild, or mimic symptoms of other common illness such as the common cold (14). To make matters worse, the virus has a up to a 14-day incubation period during which people are completely asymptomatic but are still contagious (15).
Based on the above case and others, the virus is being transmitted from person to person (16), which means that we are already at Phase 5 on the WHO’s pandemic alert system (17). Meanwhile, foreign nationals are being evacuated from China, some of which may be carriers, and will act as a conduit for the further spread of this deadly infection (18)! Only today, January 29th, did Air Canada finally announce that it would be suspending all flights to Beijing and Shanghai (19). Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau thinks it’s a great time to wish everyone a happy and peaceful Chinese New Year celebration? Is coronavirus “good fortune”? While other nations such as the UK have banned flights coming in from China (34), our “little potato” is asleep at the wheel!
Either way, the best things to do in order to keep you and your family safe from transmission are: practice proper hand-washing, teach your children to wash their hands often and properly, don’t touch your face or eyes in public, carry hand sanitizer at all times, avoid people who look sick, and avoid any unnecessary travel or activities outside the home (23). When you get home, wash your hands and face with soap and water, change your clothes, and brush your teeth before eating (20)(21). Some people are recommending face masks in certain situations (29)(30)(31). Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands, and clean and disinfect objects and surfaces (21). Also, if you feel sick and don’t require medical attention, stay home (22)(24)! At least you’ll be able to watch the news as everyone tracks the progression of this global pandemic (25)(26)(32).
Seeing as the symptoms of this novel coronavirus can be so mild, you could already be spreading the virus and not even know it. That’s also a good reason not to panic. Maybe panic a little.