MANILA: Asian airport officials adopted a series of measures yesterday to prevent the spread of SARS by air travel, including mandatory health declaration cards and temperature screening of all passengers.
The measures will be implemented throughout Asia's airports, using standardised forms and procedures.
Representatives from Asean were joined by airport officials from China, Japan and South Korea at the two-day meeting, a follow-up to last month's Asean summit in Bangkok that was devoted to SARS.
The officials agreed to have standardised health declaration cards for departing passengers by June 15.
They will include the name, nationality, passport number and flight information of a departing passenger, in addition to questions about possible contact with a SARS-infected person and if the passenger stayed in a SARS-infected country or has a fever.
Temperature screening for departing travellers will be implemented by Aug 15, according to a resolution at the end of the meeting.
On arrival, only the passengers from SARS-affected countries will be screened again for temperature.
Edgardo Manda, general manager of Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport, said Japanese delegates asked to be exempted from immediately implementing temperature screening because they needed to consult officials in Tokyo.
Japanese delegate Emiko Iwasaki said Japan could not immediately implement the measure because it is illegal there to force somebody to have fever checked.
All the countries agreed that passengers suspected of SARS would be quarantined and placed under medical treatment but that they would not be denied entry into any country in the region.
Manda said the agreement to allow entry to a possible SARS-infected person was a “very significant'' achievement.
He said deporting a potential SARS case would lead to a more complicated situation in which the virus could spread among passengers of the aircraft returning the person to their country of origin, which could prompt a quarantine of everyone on the plane.
He acknowledged that the “SARS import-export control'' measures would be inconvenient for passengers, but “that is the only way we can capture the database or ... the important information'' needed to identify and isolate suspected cases.
Qi Xiuqin, deputy director general of China's inspection and quarantine agency, said “there is no problem implementing'' the measures.
Yam Kum Weng, airport management director for Singapore, said Asean has established a “solid protocol'' to contain the disease that will boost confidence in air travel in the region.
“That will be a powerful message to send to the international community,'' he said.
“We give assurance that people passing through the airports are properly screened.''
Other measures agreed upon include customs priority clearance for medical equipment and supplies for SARS-related purposes, use of the WHO guidelines on the treatment of passengers suspected of SARS and regular exchanges of information among Asean countries to facilitate “contact tracing'' for people who may have been come in contact with a SARS-infected person.
Manda said since not all countries are financially capable of installing expensive thermal machines for temperature screening, the delegates agreed on “acceptable'' alternatives such as disposable thermometers, thermo strips or infrared devices.
Although no sanctions will be imposed on countries that fail to implement the measures, meeting participants are aware that the resolution “is something that will always haunt them'' to implement the agreement, he said.
The International Air Transport Association says SARS has caused more damage to the global airline industry than the Sept 11 attacks and the war in Iraq combined.
Thomas Andrew Drysdale, IATA Asia-Pacific regional director, said the association expects a loss of US$10bil (RM38bil) this year. – AP
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