KUALA LUMPUR: As airlines around the world move to ban passengers displaying flu-like symptoms from boarding their planes following the current scare of atypical pneumonia, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) said it will provide protective masks for them on its flights.
This was among key measures taken by the national carrier after the World Health Organisation (WHO) sent out its global alert and advice to all airlines on the flu-like illness, also known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
MAS said in a statement that if passengers developed the symptoms on board the flight, the airline would alert the destination airport so that appropriate medical provision was available upon landing.
The symptoms, as stipulated by Health Ministry, were flu-like illness with rapid onset of high fever followed by muscle aches, headaches and sore throat. MAS advised prospective passengers with these symptoms to seek medical advice.
Cathay Pacific issued orders to its ground staff not to check in passengers who appeared sick and to refer them for medical assessment.
Airline officials in Hong Kong said it was already standard operating procedure for ground staff not to allow people with infectious diseases to board.
Cathay Pacific medical officer John Merritt, who confirmed that the order was issued and was in line with company policy, said air filters on aircraft removed many of the droplets and particles that were responsible for spreading infection.
But it is important for passengers who appear to be ill to be denied boarding and referred for medical assessment, he was quoted in The Standard as saying.
Travellers leaving Guangdong since Sunday were questioned about their recent health and given mandatory physicals if they reported pneumonia-like symptoms, mainland officials said.
Airport authorities have advised airlines operating out of Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport to take effective measures to prevent the spread of illness but have recommended no specific strategies.
Hong Kongs Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food Dr Yeoh Eng Kiong, in his daily briefing, revealed on Sunday that most experts agreed that the disease was caused by a virus, but they had yet to confirm if it was a new virus or a mutated strain.
He ruled out the possibility that the outbreak was related to a bio-terrorism attack, restating that the outbreak was a clustered infection in hospitals.
The Prince of Wales Hospital, the epicentre of the current outbreak here, has suspended non-emergency operations and specialist consultations, as the outbreak shows no signs of abating.
The hospital is also offering temporary accommodation for the first time to staff worried that they might have been exposed and could infect family members.
The first outbreak was reported in February in Guangdong where 305 people were infected and five died.
For more information on SARS, log on to the WHO website, www.who.int or www. wpro.who.int.
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