Czech officials target air travellers in response to coronavirus

Photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The government of the Czech Republic have announced a number of special steps in connection with the coronavirus, which has spread across China and to at least 10 other countries. The measures are focused on people arriving by air on Czech territory.

A sign at Prague Airport informing passengers of what to do if they are concerned they may have the virus, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
The coronavirus causes a severe lung disease and is contagious before symptoms are felt, China warned on Sunday.

While the Chinese authorities have reported a few thousand incidences, experts fear as many as 100,000 people could already have the infection.

So far more than 50 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in the rest of the world and at least 80 people have died in total.

Here in the Czech Republic random screenings of air travellers are taking place and there are new signs in place at Prague Airport informing passengers of what to do if they are concerned they may have the virus.

Following a Security Council meeting on Monday to discuss responses to the crisis Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told reporters about a further step.

“The measures should be improved by the crew of every plane that lands in the Czech Republic informing passengers, in advance, that if somebody has breathing difficulties, or feels that they are sick, then they should seek medical assistance.”

Adam Vojtěch (left), photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
Speaking at Prague Airport on Sunday, the minister of health, Adam Vojtěch, said his officials were acting in line with all international directives and taking logical action.

Some have called for a ban on direct flights from China to Czech airports, but he ruled out any such move.

“It is necessary to bear in mind that people can essentially reach the Czech Republic via all existing air routes. Via hubs like Dubai, Doha, Istanbul and all surrounding airports. This means banning direct flights from China is not a rational measure. It is necessary to look at the situation in a rational manner and to take rational measures.”

Mr. Vojtěch also discounted the idea of blanket screenings for the coronavirus at the Czech Republic’s main airport, given that the incubation period for the infection is 14 days.

Across the board screenings – particularly at a time of a high incidence of the flu – would lead to mistaken diagnoses and swamp health facilities, the minister told reporters.

A worker takes the temperature of a passenger at the entrance to a subway station in Beijing, photo: ČTK/AP/Mark Schiefelbein
“By contrast, we want to use targeted screening. That means identifying passengers who are suspected of displaying symptoms of illness. Today two female passengers came forward saying they observed some symptoms in themselves, but in the end it turned out they did not have it. Nevertheless, they were immediately sent to an on-site medical centre, where they were examined.”

The WHO’s representative in the Czech Republic, Dr. Srdan Matic, has pointed out that so far the mortality rate of coronavirus victims has been around 2 percent. This means the virus does not at present seem to be very deadly, he said.