New York’s JFK airport is to start screening passengers from the west African countries worst affected by Ebola in a bid to halt the international spread of the outbreak that has killed more than 4,000 people.
Teams equipped with thermal guns will take the temperatures of travellers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and ask them a series of questions about their possible exposure to the virus as they enter the US.
JFK is the first of five US airports to start enhanced screening of passengers from the countries worst hit by Ebola; checks will begin in the next few days at O’Hare in Chicago, Newark, Washington’s Dulles and Atlanta’s airport.
The measures come after Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola outside Africa, died on Wednesday in a Texas hospital. Duncan had travelled to the US from Liberia, and was only diagnosed with the disease once he arrived in Dallas.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the airport screening was just one aspect of an overall strategy to fight the spread of Ebola.
“Because we want to protect the American public, we are taking a tiered approach,” said CDC spokesman Jason McDonald.
But even before the authorities start checking passengers for fevers, critics questioned whether the screenings would prove effective at stopping travellers infected with the often fatal Ebola virus from entering the country.
JFK is the entry point for nearly half of the roughly 150 travellers who arrive daily from the three west African countries, and those flights amount to around 0.1% of all international daily arrivals to the airport, McDonald said.
The latest figures released by the World Health Organisation show the number of deaths attributed to the haemorrhagic fever has risen to 4,033. The vast majority of the fatalities – 4,024 – were in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Department of homeland security’s customs and border protection (CBP) officials will conduct the screenings under CDC direction, McDonald said.
Using infrared temperature guns, the CBP officers will check for high temperatures among passengers whose journeys began or included a stop in one of the three west African countries.
Those with a fever or other symptoms, or possible exposure to Ebola, will be referred to the CDC. Health authorities may then decide to admit a person to a hospital for evaluation, testing and treatment, or to quarantine or isolate the patient under federal law.
Britain has already introduced enhanced screening for the virus at Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Eurostar rail terminals.
A national exercise to test Britain’s readiness for an Ebola outbreak will take place later on Saturday.