Airports around the world have begun taking precautions to deal with an anticipated influx of Chinese tourists taking Lunar New Year holidays, just as the outbreak of a pneumonia-like virus in China has prompted officials there to take drastic measures to prevent its spread.
Following government guidance, all passengers arriving on direct flights from China will receive thermal screening at the gate upon arrival and be provided with informational brochures.
Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel, announced today the screening at the airport , home to Emirates airline, will be conducted at secured, closed gates by teams from the Dubai Health Authority and the Airport Medical Center, Dubai Airports said in a statement provided to The Associated Press.
The airport authority would not say whether it expected a drop in passengers from China for the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins tomorrow following China's decision to close off Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, where a newly identified coronavirus first appeared last month. Chinese are expected to take an estimated 3 billion trips during the 40-day spike in travel.
Abu Dhabi International Airport, home to Etihad Airways, later tweeted that it had also started a screening process for all passengers arriving from China.
Elsewhere in the Mideast, the Saudi Health Ministry said it would begin screening airline passengers arriving on direct and indirect flights from China to the kingdom.
Meanwhile, the island nation of Bahrain off the coast of Saudi Arabia, home to the long-haul carrier Gulf Air, said it had “taken preemptive measures” at Manama International Airport as well, without elaborating.
China shut down train stations, the airport, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses in the Wuhan, and local authorities have demanded all residents wear masks in public places.
At dawn today, Italian Red Cross officials were on hand at Rome's Fiumicino airport to meet the last flight from Wuhan before the Chinese city's airport was shut down.
The 202 passengers were taken to a special sterile area for a screening of their body temperature by health workers wearing sanitary suits, goggles and masks, but none were found to be suffering from the virus, Dr. Michele Bonizzi said.
“The passengers passed through this structure where, if there had been — and that was not the case today — a need to do further tests our ambulance was there” to take them to a hospital, she said.
Before flights from Wuhan were grounded, passengers arriving in the U.S. from flights originating in the city were directed to Kennedy Airport in New York, Los Angeles International, San Francisco International, O'Hare Airport in Chicago and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport where facilities were set up for screening.
British authorities said passengers arriving from China to Heathrow Airport in London, Europe's busiest, and other airports were not being screened but that they were being given information leaflets on what to do if they fall ill.
Germany's Fraport, the operator of Frankfurt Airport, said it had not yet received any government guidance advising screening take place so there are currently no travel restrictions.
In China, measures similar to the lockdown in Wuhan were being taken at nearby cities in Hubei province, with public transport suspended and theaters, internet cafes and other entertainment centers closed, according to state media reports.
The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that cause more serious illnesses, such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people, and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, which developed from camels.
So far, most of China's 571 cases have been in Wuhan and a total of 17 people have died, all of them in and around the city.
In Africa, home to hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers, airports in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya have also begun screening arriving passengers.
"Nigerians are advised to remain calm," the government of Africa's most populous nation said yesterday.
But Ethiopian Airlines, which has multiple daily passenger and cargo flights to China and Africa's busiest airport hub, said today it was waiting for guidance from Ethiopia's Health Ministry on how to respond.
China is Africa's top trading partner.
The Lunar New Year is one of the world's largest annual movement of people, and previously Dubai Airports said it was “preparing to welcome thousands of Chinese travelers” ahead of the weekend.
Preliminary figures show Dubai Airport welcomed some 3.7 million passengers from China, a five percent increase year-on-year.