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Fighting coronavirus | Airlines ask crew to avoid meat, shaking hands; airports install thermal cameras

Airlines and airports have stepped up efforts to limit the virus spread

February 28, 2020 / 11:44 AM IST
File image: Twitter/@MEAIndia

File image: Twitter/@MEAIndia

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Even as airlines around the world depend on the hardest disinfectants to clean their flights of any sign of the coronavirus or COVID-19, the aviation industry in India too has geared up to limit the damage from the epidemic.

While airlines have issued advisories asking pilots and crews to wear masks, airports in Mumbai and Delhi have installed thermal cameras to screen passengers.

The measures come even as the virus, despite showing signs of slowing down in China, seems to fast spreading to other regions, including parts of Asia, Europe and South America.

The aviation industry is one of the most vulnerable and travel has taken a hit. Most airlines have cancelled flights and even sent staff on leave.

Advisory to crewIndiGo, the country's largest airline, sent a list of 'personal protective measures' to its pilots, crew members and those handing ground operations in India and overseas.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Apart from asking its staff to frequently wash hands, 'at least for 20 seconds' and 'do not shake hands for greeting', the airline has given specific instructions to those flying to South East nations.

One of these stated:

"On all flights to South East ASEAN countries, crew to wear masks mandatorily before opening doors at destinations and during the entire time while on a layover."

There are dietary recommendations too. "The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care..." it added.

Airports on alertBoth Mumbai and Delhi airports have taken special measures as they handle passengers coming in from different parts of the world.

"As per the Government of India (MoCA and MoHFW) directives, MIAL has taken all actions," said a representative of Mumbai International Airport, which is operated by the GVK Group.

The airport now has set up health counters, and 'alert messages' have been put up at strategic locations within the Mumbai airport, which handles nearly 50 million passengers a year, or about 1.3 lakh passengers a day.

These passengers will also have to line up to be screened by especially installed thermal cameras. At MIAL, there are three thermal cameras before the immigration area.

How do thermal cameras, which were also used in airports globally during the SARS scare, help?

Some of them may look like the regular cameras. But instead of being sensitive to light, like normal cameras, the thermal ones pick up heat. Hotter the subject that is being screened, brighter the image is.

These cameras can single out passengers with even a slight variation in body temperature, which is the first step to filter fliers who could be carrying the virus. They are then taken for further testing.

These cameras are at present extensively used in all major airports around the world.

Cleaning the flightsInternational airlines are seeking out the toughest disinfectants to neutralise the virus on aisles, seats and overhead cabins. A Bloomberg report details how airlines -- including Qantas Airways, Korean Air and Scoot -- are using disinfectants that are otherwise strong enough to stop herpes and superbugs. The usual vacuum and wipe routine is no longer enough.

Prince Mathews Thomas
Prince Mathews Thomas heads the corporate bureau of Moneycontrol. He has been covering the business world for 16 years, having worked in The Hindu Business Line, Forbes India, Dow Jones Newswires, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Week. A Chevening scholar, Prince has also authored The Consolidators, a book on second generation entrepreneurs.
first published: Feb 28, 2020 11:42 am