Five US airports to begin Ebola screenings for west Africa arrivals
The Guardian - Passengers travelling from west Africa will face additional Ebola screenings at five US airports, the White House said on Wednesday, amid mounting concern that not enough controls were in place to prevent the deadly disease from entering the US.
The additional screenings will be carried out by personnel from US Customs and Border Protection, US Coast Guard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Enhanced screenings will begin at John F Kennedy airport in New York on Saturday. They will begin next week at Liberty airport in Newark, New Jersey; Dulles, outside Washington DC; Chicago O’Hare, and Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta.
“These measures are really just belt-and-suspenders,” President Barack Obama told state and local officials on Wednesday. “It’s an added layer of protection on top of the procedures already in place at several airports.”
Passengers flying from the disease-ravaged west African countries already face screenings at their departure airport which include temperature checks and questionnaires about their exposure history.
White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, said the five airports cover the destinations of 94% of passengers travelling to the US from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – the three west African countries worst affected by Ebola. He said about 150 people a day will face extra screenings.
The news came as a Dallas hospital announced the death of the first man diagnosed with Ebola in the US. Thomas Eric Duncan travelled from Liberia to the US on 19 September. He did not disclose on a pre-flight questionnaire that he had come into contact with Ebola in Liberia.
It is believed Duncan contracted the disease while helping take his landlord’s 19-year-old daughter to an Ebola treatment ward in Monrovia. She was turned away because the ward was full, and the young woman later died at home.
The US Department of Homeland Security deputy secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said the administration is taking a “layered approach” to the Ebola screenings.
Mayorkas said CBP agents have been directed to observe passengers for “overt signs of illnesses at all US ports of entry”. Agents will hand out factsheets to passengers travelling from the affected countries in west Africa that outline the signs and symptoms of the virus as well as what they should do if symptoms develop within the 21-day incubation period.
“We are also continuing to evaluate the effectiveness of potential additional measures to prevent the spread of Ebola across our borders, and will provide more details on those potential steps very shortly,” he said.
Passengers arriving from the three most affected countries will be escorted by agents to an area of the airport set aside for screening, according to a fact sheet provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CBP officers will ask the travellers a serious of health questions about their exposure to Ebola and trained medical personnel will take their temperature with an FDA-approved non-contact thermometer, CDC director Tom Frieden said at press conference on Wednesday afternoon. If travellers show signs of having Ebola or indicate they’ve had exposure to the disease, they will be placed at an airport quarantine station and evaluated.
The administration has said repeatedly that it is not considering a ban on travel to or from the west African countries affected by the outbreak there, as it could exacerbate the situation and prevent desperately needed resources from reaching the region.