Thursday, February 13, 2020

Want to Stop a Pandemic? Start with Flying

For an excellent analysis of aviation's response to the ongoing Wuhan Novel Coronavirus problem, we read at Lexology:
A large number of international airlines have suspended their flights to mainland China. Those airlines which are still flying have allowed cabin crew to wear face masks, and crew layover time has been reduced or ended altogether. Some airlines have also modified their in-flight services, for instance by no longer providing pillows or blankets, suspending duty-free sales, and changing the nature of meal service.
Based on experience from previous epidemics, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has produced an Emergency Response Plan for use by airlines in the event of a public health emergency. Although a number of airlines do have an emergency response plan to deal with public health emergencies, the template Emergency Response Plan has been issued by IATA for those airlines that do not. It details the roles and responsibilities of the emergency response team, along with specific checklists to be adopted.
In relation to suspected communicable disease generally, IATA has also issued various best practice guidelines for airline employees and agents. These cover, for example:
  • Cabin crew: setting out how to identify passengers with a suspected communicable disease, and the actions to take once such a person is identified. These include informing the Captain, who is required to report the suspected case to air traffic control under international regulations. Similar guidance for cabin crew has been issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection, which has also issued recent recommendations for dealing with the 2019-nCov virus.
  • Cleaning crew: setting out the procedures to follow to clean and disinfect an arriving aircraft with a suspected case of communicable disease.
  • Cargo and baggage handlers: drawing on previous experience with SARS, avian flu and Ebola, this guideline notes that there is no evidence that these infections could be transmitted by cargo or baggage handling. Although it recommends proper hand hygiene, no specific measures are advised.
  • Guidance has also been issued by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), who issued a Safety Information Bulletin on 27 January 2020. EASA recommended that airlines provide information to crew members as to how to identify and manage a case of acute respiratory infection on board an aircraft. It also recommended that airlines performing passenger flights to or from affected countries should be equipped with protection kits for crew members assisting with potentially infectious cases. In addition, the Bulletin calls upon airlines and airport operators to collaborate as much as possible with public health authorities, in order to provide support in tracing passengers in the event of flights where 2019-nCov infection has been confirmed.
As far as airports are concerned, the responsibility for managing the risk of communicable diseases at airports rests with both national and local public health authorities and the relevant airport operator. 

As of Feb 6, 2020, the WSJ is writing: "World Health Authorities Warn Virus Hasn’t Peaked After China’s Deadliest Day - Death toll in country now stands at 636, with more than 31,000 cases."

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