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Ethiopian steps up passenger screening at Bole airport
Spraying disinfectant chemical in an Ethiopian aircraft that operates to China

Ethiopian steps up passenger screening at Bole airport

Following the outbreak of the fatal Novel Coronavirus – now renamed COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO) – Ethiopian Airlines announced that it has stepped up passenger screening and aircraft disinfection process at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport.

Officials of Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Airports organized a tour for the local media on Thursday. Adequate number of health professionals and passenger screening machines have been deployed at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. Health professionals drawn from the Addis Ababa Health Bureau told the media that thermoscan machines are deployed at both Terminal I and Terminal II at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. All incoming passengers walk through the thermoscan machines which identifies persons with high fever. Passenger with high fever will be taken to the isolation center and further examination will be conducted. The travel history of the passenger will also be assessed. If there is the need for further examination the suspect will be sent to the quarantine center set up in the city.

According to the health professionals, all passengers originating from China are examined and are requested to fill forms and if they are staying in Ethiopia their addresses will be registered and health professionals will follow up their health status for 15 days. On average, the health professionals are screening up to 7,000 passengers on a daily basis.

Berhanu Gulelat, Manager of Airport Customer Care and Terminal Operation, said all the incoming passengers coming through the bridges or buses are guided to pass through the thermoscan machines. “We are closely monitoring all the passengers starting from the aircraft until they leave the airport with the help of the thermoscan machines. We also request the travel history of the passengers and strict follow up is being conducted on passengers coming from China,” Berhanu said. According to him, thermoscan machines are installed at all the terminals including the VIP saloon. Berhanu said awareness on the nature of the pathogen and how it is transmitted is given to staff of the airport and the airline adding that facemask and hand gloves are distributed to front desk staff.   

Eskinder Alemu, CEO of Ethiopian Airports, said that the aircraft returning from China are parked at a distant apron where passengers are screened and accompanied to the terminal to go through the thermoscan. After all passengers and crew are disembarked the aircraft will move to the maintenance center where it goes through a disinfection process. Blankets and other inflight materials are discarded and burnt. Trained personnel spray chemicals recommended by the WHO.

“We are strictly following up the safety guidelines recommended by the WHO. We cannot make the risk of spreading the virus zero unless all means of transport to China is closed. So far the WHO did not recommend airlines to halt flights to China. But by adhering to the guiding principles of the WHO we can minimize the risk,” Eskinder said. “It is not logical to demand Ethiopian to suspend flights to China as other airlines are still flying to China and these airlines also fly to Addis Ababa. If Ethiopian suspends flight to China it does not mean that passengers from China will not be coming to Ethiopia. Because they can fly via Dubai or Frankfurt to Addis Ababa.”

Ethiopian Airlines is the major airline that links China with Africa. Ethiopian which has been flying to China since 1973 serves five destinations in China including Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Chengdu. The national carrier operates 35 weekly flights between China and Ethiopia. The airline has seamless connections between China and 60 destinations in Africa.  “There is also a very strict passenger careening at the Chinese airports,” Eskinder said.  

Ethiopian does not fly to Wuhan – the sprawling capital of Central China’s Hubei province – the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.    

The Chinese government has restricted movement of people out of Hubei province. Even people from other provinces and cities are requested to have a medical release from local authorities in order to be able to travel out of the country. Chinese workers who went home to celebrate the Chinese New Year are unable to return to Africa as getting the travel release is a challenge for them. A construction project owner in Addis Ababa told The Reporter that his Chinese contractor is facing a challenge in getting his Chinese workers back to Ethiopia due to the stringent travel rules introduced in connection with the Corona outbreak.     

Ethiopian Airlines has reduced its capacity on the China route due to a fall in demand. The airline used to operate B777-300 aircraft with 400 seat capacity but now fly B787 with more than 200 seats. “The airline is not making profit on the China route at this time. Instead it is operating with loss due to low load factor. It is rather a matter of commitment and solidarity. You do not talk about profit while a strong partner like China is in the middle of this kind of crisis,” an official told The Reporter.