Reports of extensive, multiple-hour queues at US airports have emerged as US citizens returning from Europe are screened for coronavirus. The ban on foreign travel from Europe to the US, which was implemented yesterday, has prompted thousands of US citizens to fly home as soon as possible.
Restrictions on flights entering the US have caused lengthy queues at airports across the country as screening procedures appear to be struggling to keep up with the spike in demand. Reports have emerged of queues up to six hours long at Chicago O’Hare International, where thousands of Americans are waiting to pass through immigration.
An influx of Americans waiting to return home
As of midnight yesterday, the US imposed a ban on individuals who have either visited or passed through any of the countries of the EU Schengen Area within the past two weeks. The travel ban will also be extended to the UK and Ireland as of Tuesday. The radical policy was announced by Donald Trump earlier in the week as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the US through individuals who have caught the virus whilst visiting Europe – the current epicenter of the pandamic.
Although the ban will stop foreign citizens from entering the country, US citizens are permitted to return home. However, the announcement of the travel ban has prompted many American citizens from across the world to fly home before travel restrictions tighten even further.
Lengthy screening queues
With the influx of Americans returning to airports across the US, the mandatory screening process is struggling to keep up with demand. This process is intended to determine which passengers may have contracted COVID-19.
As reported by the BBC, both Chicago O’Hare and Dallas Fort Worth International have experienced lengthy queues for passengers travelling back from the EU Schengen Area. Upon arrival at US airports, travellers are being asked questions about their medical history and checked for any initial symptoms which could show a COVID-19 infection.
The perfect environment for additional infections
While the screening process is mandatory and will help identify passengers who may be in the early stages of a COVID-19 infection, the long queues have caused a backlash online for a number of reasons. Despite the obvious inconvenience of having to wait in a line for hours on end, the packed waiting areas are an ideal environment for the virus to spread even further.
Right now at O’Hare airport in Chicago:
Thousands of people are waiting for hours due to “enhanced #CoronaVirus screening" procedures…
— Terrence Daniels (Captain Planet) (@Terrence_STR) March 15, 2020
Videos posted on Twitter show the crowded pre-screening areas within airport terminals across the country. As we are now well aware, COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease which can be passed between individuals who aren’t even aware they are carrying it. It looks like a lack of planning with regard to the staff and space capacity needed to carry out the screening. This could in fact exacerbate the problem.
If so, it would take a week or two for the spike in cases to become apparent. By then we may well see the effects of this poor logistical operation.