The Lahore airport needs to urgently systemise and improve its screening mechanisms before it gets too late for prevention.
As I boarded off an international flight in Lahore last week, I figured there was going to be a strict check in regards to the widely spreading, deadly coronavirus.
Of course, I realised that this was Lahore, and the checks might not be as stringent or organised as one would expect, given that there are already 60,373 confirmed cases of the virus across the world. However, as I, along with other very tired and generally annoyed passengers, made my way down the stairs towards the bustling passport control desk, a young man with a small orange device in his hand shouted questions such as “Hey ma’am, are you Chinese?” “Are you coming from China?” “Are you sick?”
These questions were consistently repeated as some of us, on the basis of random selection, were attacked by the orange device without any prior warning. And that was it. The screening for the greatly feared coronavirus was over.
I didn’t happen to be one of the very few passengers to be attacked by the small orange device, but those of us who simply avoided it by shouting back statements such as “Do I look Chinese to you?” and “I don’t have the virus, I’m Pakistani!”
Assuming that the orange device was a properly functioning thermo scanner, it should have been used systematically, minus the completely pointless questions being asked, to properly check each and every passenger entering the country. In the US, passengers are made to fill out documentation of their travel and heath situation and are individually checked for fever. Any passenger detected with coronavirus symptoms is further diagnosed at the airport quarantine facility. According to experts at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these measures definitely help in slowing down the spread of the virus.
It is pertinent that a proper check is kept on all flights. Perhaps, an easy solution might be investing in thermal cameras like India has.
It is pertinent that adequate steps must be taken to slow down the spread of the virus especially in a country like Pakistan where health facilities are insufficient. While it is definitely much more important to check for the virus in flights coming from China, it is also necessary to ensure that when screenings are underway they are done in a systematic and organised manner, regardless of where the flight is coming from and whether the passengers look Chinese or not!
According to a CAA officer at the Allama Iqbal International Airport, fully trained doctors and medical staff of the Ministry of Health have been examining the passengers at all international airports. However, the kind of screening that I witnessed does not seem to be of much use. Procedurally, any passenger with high temperatures must be sent to a quarantine facility and later to a health facility, if need be. Though, clearly this was not the case at the airport.
There have already been a number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in countries other than China. These countries include the UK, Italy, Finland, Belgium, Thailand, France, and Spain amongst many others. It is hence pertinent that a proper check is kept on all international flights. Perhaps, an easy solution might be investing in thermal cameras like India has. Even if a hand held thermo scanner is being employed, it must be done uniformly as part of a standard screening process.
Pakistani doctors have pointed out that the country is not prepared for such an emergency, given the already overflowing government hospitals and the inability to develop a healthcare system to tackle outbreaks effectively. Hence, we must stick to this very ancient piece of advice: prevention is better than cure. According to what I witnessed, the Lahore airport needs to urgently systemise and improve its screening mechanisms before it gets too late for prevention.