With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down airports and airlines grounding fleets, some people are beginning to ask whether temperature checks at airports should become mandatory in the future. The idea of checking a person’s temperature using thermal imaging started to appear at Asian and Middle Eastern airports shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China.
At the time, border and immigration workers started using thermal imaging cameras to screen people on flights arriving from China. This practice began appearing at other airports around the world, as governments attempted to prevent the deadly virus from entering their countries.
Thermal imaging could become the new norm
Now, with the entire world taking the pandemic seriously, many airport operators are saying that the thermal imaging of passengers could become the new norm, even after the current situation has abated.
In an interview in The Times, Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye explained why he thinks thermal screening at airports could be here to stay saying:
“Public Health England has obviously looked at (thermal cameras) and decided that it’s not appropriate for testing, but I can completely understand why passengers would wonder why they saw cameras at the airport where they got on the plane but didn’t see them when they arrived.”
Unlike other airports around the world, passengers at Heathrow and other UK airports were not screened by thermal imaging cameras looking to check for elevated temperatures.
During the interview, Holland-Kaye called for a global collaboration when it came to health testing, saying that thermal imaging would help to “provide reassurance and confidence in flying” once the coronavirus pandemic ends and travel restrictions are lifted.
A person can be infected but show no symptoms
As an example of how thermal screening could become just a part of flying, the Heathrow boss cited the way we all accept that we can no longer take liquids in our luggage.
“That was a big change in the way people travel,” he explained. “It helped keep people safe.”
There is no doubt that thermal imaging cameras can detect people with a fever, but the problem, using COVID-19 as an example, is that a person can be infected for several days before showing any symptoms. In many cases, passengers can have no ill effects from the virus, but are still capable of passing it on to others who could become very ill.
To prove this point, a recent test carried out on a group of infected people in Iceland found that of those tested, 50% were asymptomatic.
Thermal imaging cameras screening arriving passengers at airports may look reassuring, but in truth, they are no match for a disease like coronavirus. For this reason, I do not think that thermal imaging cameras will become a common sight at airports.
One idea I do have, however, is some form of inoculation card or an amendment in passports that lists what vaccinations you have had. It could also list what diseases you have already had and what you are now immune to. Not only would this help with the coronavirus, but other infectious diseases like measles and chickenpox.
What do you think about thermal imaging at airports? Is it a waste of time or does it have some merits? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.