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Screening to begin for coronavirus at airport

Air arrivals are to be screened at the airport as a killer virus from China continued to spread, it was announced yesterday.

The screening will include questions on areas travelled through in the previous 21 days and if the arrival had suffered any suspicious symptoms.

The move, announced yesterday, came as the Ministry of Health confirmed the island had no known or suspected cases of coronavirus, which has killed more than 170 people and infected about 7,000 people around the world.

The news came after a traveller arrived home on Sunday from a flight with a connection in Hong Kong and said airport staff needed to “elevate caution, without overreacting”, because she was not questioned about her itinerary.

Hannah Collins said she spent two weeks in the Philippines with her partner and family, before returning to the island through Hong Kong.

She said shops at Manila airport were running out of face masks, which cabin crew wore on the family's Cathay Pacific connection to the Chinese territory.

Ms Collins said there were “definitely a lot more people wearing masks” than she had seen in the two-hour stop in Hong Kong.

She added she wore a mask because she picked up a cold in the Philippines, but that her symptoms did not match the fever and dry cough associated with coronavirus.

She added: “With all the scare, I went to my doctor when I got home. She checked me out and said I didn't have it, but advised me to stay home from work.”

Ms Collins said passenger's screens were updated with news of the virus during the 16-hour flight from Hong Kong to New York.

She added that passengers near her “kind of turned their heads” when they noticed her cold symptoms.

Ms Collins said she did not “take any chances” and used hand sanitiser throughout her trip.

Her American Airlines flight to Bermuda, which was delayed two hours, arrived after midnight last Sunday night.

Ms Collins said customs staff, who appeared “tired” after a long day, did not ask about her earlier travel.

She added: “I came through New York, so they didn't have a real reason to ask if I had travelled through China or Asia in general.

“I declared everything. They didn't have many questions to ask of me.

“But I noticed everyone on higher alert from Manila through Hong Kong.”

She posted on Twitter the next day: “I could tell that the customs workers at the airport were tired. No one asked where I had been besides New York. This seems like a potential risk area.”

Air travel restrictions from China were imposed yesterday to limit the virus, coded 2019-nCoV and known as the Wuhan coronavirus after the city where it was first spotted.

Bermuda's state of alert was elevated on Monday, and Ms Collins said had felt no need to identify herself at the airport because she had not been in any affected area in the Philippines.

A spokeswoman for the health ministry said “various disciplines and sectors of society”, along with airport customs, immigration, and airport operators Skyport, had been warned about the possible arrival of the virus in Bermuda.

She added travellers arriving in Bermuda would be monitored and assessed if they were thought to be at risk.

The spokeswoman said: “Those who have spent time in jurisdictions considered at very high risk, will be given health instructions for follow up and advice on self-monitoring for illness for 14 days.

“The public should know that there is a health officer at the airport, to assist with managing the situation at the port of entry and airport officials are in continuous communication with the epidemiology and surveillance unit.”

A spokeswoman for Skyport added that TV screens at the airport arrivals area will be used to advise air arrivals.

She added: “An isolation area has also been set up in the hall for health officials to assess passengers travelling from high-risk countries or who are exhibiting symptoms of illness.

“Additionally, public health and safety audio messaging will be broadcast on the PA system throughout the arrivals, baggage claim and departures areas.”

Cheryl Peek-Ball, the Chief Medical Officer, said yesterday: “It should be noted, that the coronavirus has not been fully characterised. Its origin, mode of transmission and how it makes individuals ill is still being determined in clinical research settings worldwide.

“What we do know, is that it appears to be transmitted from infected animals or humans to other humans and it takes between two to ten days to incubate, before making an infected individual ill with fever, cough and difficulty breathing.”

A spokeswoman for British Airways in Bermuda said the carrier had “temporarily suspended all flights to and from mainland China, with immediate effect, following advice from the Foreign Office against all but essential travel”.

BA flights to Hong Kong are not affected.

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Published January 30, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated January 30, 2020 at 6:23 am)

Screening to begin for coronavirus at airport

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