For every airline passenger arriving at Hong Kong International right now, they will need to have a coronavirus test before they have even left the airport — taking up to 12 HOURS before you can finally enter the city.
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The new procedure makes it the first airport in the world to require testing for all incoming passengers — whether they are showing symptoms or not.
As the neon-washed metropolis reported zero Covid-19 cases last Monday for the first time since early March, its airport testing procedures are being credited with helping to slow the spread.
Hong Kong has been praised as a potential corona success story, thanks to early steps taken by citizens and government to contain the spread, including wearing masks, avoiding crowded places, closing schools and working from home.
The city of 7.4 million people has recorded just over 1,000 cases and five deaths.
NO PPE FOR CABIN CREW
From not selling middle seats to providing medical-grade PPE for cabin crew, airlines around the world are adopting strict new measures to make flying safer during the pandemic.
But new advice from airline authorities overseas suggests that some of the measures might be a step too far.
A document from the Civil Aviation Administration of China, entitled “Preventing Spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Guidelines for Airlines”, states: “It’s recommended that cabin crew wear disposable diapers and avoid using the lavatory unless in special circumstances to reduce the risk of infection.”
As The Sun reported in January, overworked staff at hospitals in the Chinese city of Wuhan also had to wear adult nappies because they didn’t have time for toilet breaks, but is the same really necessary for airline crew? Especially as planes won’t be so busy and crew will have their own toilet that will be sanitised after every use.
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic confirmed that the guidance doesn’t relate to the UK, and the airlines are following the advice of Public Health England and the World Health Organisation. After thousands of crew have been furloughed, requiring them to return to work in a nappy would no doubt be the final straw.
Maintaining dignity is as important as anything.
But over the last month, Hong Kong has fought a second wave of infections, largely due to residents returning to the city from abroad.
As a result, the territory’s government temporarily banned the entry of all non-residents and transit passengers. Now, every new arrival is fitted with an electronic tracking bracelet and ordered to self-quarantine at home or in a hotel for two weeks.
The airport’s other health and safety measures include enhanced disinfection methods, hand sanitiser stations and virus-killing cleaning robots called Whiz, which are fitted with UV light sterilisers and air sterilisers.
Incoming passengers’ temperatures are checked as they disembark from flights.
After passing through Customs and Immigration, they are then escorted by staff in PPE to the nearby AsiaWorld-Expo convention centre.
Let us spray for safe trip
BEFORE boarding, please walk through the disinfection tunnel and thermal scanner and have your bags “sanitagged”.
This is the flightmare vision of the future of travel as predicted by aviation marketing consultancy SimpliFlying.
Here are seven of the changes it is expecting to see as early as this year.
Screen it out: In economy class each seat would have a transparent plastic screen around the head and side, preventing contamination between passengers.
The screen leaves the lower part of the seat free so passengers can use the in-flight entertainment or eat meals.
The middle-seat passenger may also face the back of the plane instead.
Bag to the future: After checking your bags, they will need to be “sanitagged” – labelled to say they have been cleansed by electrostatic or UV disinfection and even plastic wrapping. When your bags reach your destination, the “tag” will be checked before your luggage can be released to you.
Blood vessel: If you thought that being patted down in your socks by airport security was invasive, imagine having your blood taken too – something which has already been trialled in Dubai.
The gate escape: Instead of the usual scrum at the boarding gates, passengers will only board after receiving an individual notification on their phone asking them to proceed. And the jetbridge leading to the plane could be turned into a disinfection tunnel, ensuring every passenger stepping aboard has been disinfected.
Cabin fever: Post Covid-19 we could see the introduction of the in-flight janitor to keep the cabin clean, with a focus on high-touch areas such as toilet door handles. A cleaning log could be made available to passengers via an app to boost confidence.
Land there’s more: Once on the ground, expect to see thermal scanners to spot if a passenger has a potential fever. An immunity passport may also have to be verified before you can enter the country.
Can’t touch this: Seatback pockets will be left empty and the in-flight safety videos will get even longer, with a new section on hygiene. Self-service touchscreens at check-in are a haven for germs so expect airport terminals to offer touchless kiosks with scanning via a code, and even voice commands.
Inside the enormous building, desks and chairs have been set up at a safe social distance where new arrivals fill out health declaration forms.
An electronic tag, linked to a smartphone app, is then fitted to the wrist. Next, a deep-throat saliva sample is taken and sent for processing.
At this point, most passengers are allowed to leave the airport and will be notified of their test result within three days.
However, passengers from the US and UK must wait for their test results at AsiaWorld-Expo, a process which can take up to 12 hours.
Passengers arriving in the evening or late afternoon will need to wait overnight and will be temporarily put up at the four-star
Regal Oriental Hotel in Kowloon City, one of Hong Kong’s best foodie neighbourhoods.
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While those who test negative can continue to their accommodation, anyone who tests positive is immediately sent to hospital.
Coronavirus patients are kept in isolation wards until they twice test negative for the disease.
However, everyone, whether they test positive or negative, must undergo 14 days of compulsory quarantine.
The head of the city’s Centre for Health Protection, Dr Wong Ka-hing, said the airport’s comprehensive monitoring system will stay in place for the foreseeable future.
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Even so he also admitted they can only handle one planeful of passengers at a time — a far cry from the 1,100 daily flights which usually arrive from more than 200 destinations under usual circumstances.
Airports and aviation experts worldwide are now watching closely, with some predicting the Hong Kong model could become standard practice at every international airport.
South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have already adopted similar regimes — will the rest of the world now follow suit?
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