Ebola: Quarantine officers screening travellers at 6 Canadian airports
Quarantine officers from the Public Health Agency of Canada are working at six Canadian airports to help screen travellers from countries affected by the Ebola outbreak.
The quarantine officers are present at the Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa and Calgary airports, a spokesperson for Health Canada said late Wednesday.
Any travellers from West Africa who show signs of illness or indicate that they have been in contact with someone who is sick will be referred to these officers.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced Wednesday that Canada will start “targeted temperature” screening of travellers from affected countries. PHAC said Wednesday that quarantine officers will administer these temperature checks to any traveller they believe needs one.
“Quarantine officers have the necessary training and equipment, including temperature-monitoring devices, to conduct a health assessment and determine whether additional health measures are required,” the PHAC statement said.
“Should these travellers identify themselves in this manner, a temperature check will now be administered.”
There are no direct flights into Canada from any countries affected by the outbreak.
At all other ports of entry to Canada, including land border crossings and sea ports, Canada Border Services Agency officers will be able to consult remotely with a quarantine officer, the Health Canada statement said.
But a University of Toronto researcher who studies the spread of infectious diseases says airport screening is unlikely to catch many Ebola cases.
Dr. Kamran Khan told The Canadian Press that entry screening efforts may be a waste of resources. He also questioned how honest travellers will be about their symptoms.
Public health officials say the risk Ebola poses to Canadians “has not changed and remains very low.”
The ramped up screening follows similar moves in the United States, where public health officials announced additional screening at five airports that receive the majority of travellers from countries affected by the deadly outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that enhanced screening will begin at New York’s JFK International Airport on Saturday. The new screening measures will be implemented next week at Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O’Hare and Atlanta International.
These five airports receive more than 94 per cent of travellers from three of the countries most affected by the outbreak: Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
The new measures calls for all passengers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to be escorted to a special area set aside for screening.
Passengers will be observed “for signs of illness,” and will be asked a series of questions about their health and potential exposure to Ebola. Medical staff will also take passengers’ temperatures with non-contact thermometers.
Any passengers with symptoms such as a fever and who indicate they may have come in contact with the virus will undergo a public health assessment at a CDC quarantine station. They will be referred to the “appropriate public health authority” if they need further evaluation or monitoring.
“Entry screening is part of a layered process that includes exit screening and standard public health practices such as patient isolation and contact tracing in countries with Ebola outbreaks,” the CDC said in a statement. “Successful containment of the recent Ebola outbreaks in Nigeria and (Democratic Republic of the Congo) demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach.”
The new measures in North America follow moves in the affected countries to screen all outbound passengers for symptoms of Ebola. Primary exit screening includes a health questionnaire, a visual assessment for symptoms, and a body-temperature reading.
According to the CDC, 36,000 people have been screened leaving Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the two months since exit screening for Ebola was implemented. Of the 77 people who were prohibited from boarding a flight, none tested positive for the Ebola virus.
To date, Ebola has killed more than 3,400 people in West Africa and infected at least twice that, according to the World Health Organization. On Wednesday, officials in Dallas confirmed that a Liberian man who arrived in the city last month had died of the virus. He was the first Ebola case diagnosed in North America.