Greece announced this week that it will be suspending all flights to and from Qatar until mid-June after passengers on a Qatar Airways flight tested positive for coronavirus. All passengers are now in quarantine in a hotel in the capital.
Mandatory COVID-19 tests find infected passengers
Qatar Airways flight QR203 from Doha landed in Athens on Monday. All passengers were subjected to a COVID-19 test, as per European Union regulations, and had to stay overnight in a hotel in the city while they waited for their test results.
Unfortunately for these passengers, the hotel stay had to be extended as 12 of the 91 passengers tested positive for coronavirus. Those infected will undergo a two-week hotel quarantine. Authorities stated that other passengers on the flight, who tested negative for the coronavirus, are considered high risk. They are required to stay in hotel quarantine for seven days before being tested again by health officials.
The infected passengers had connected in Doha from different locations. Nine are Pakistani nationals coming from Gujrat and hold Greek residence permits. Two are Greek nationals that had traveled from Australia, and one person is a Japanese national and a member of a Greek-Japanese family, according to the General Secretariat for Civil Protection.
Tourism is a crucial part of the Greek economy, and the grounding of almost all flights since March 26th has hit the country hard. In a bid to tempt tourists to return to Greece, the authorities announced this week that it would cover the costs of accommodating foreign visitors who tested positive for the virus.
The problem with thermal screening
On its website, Qatar Airways outlines the procedures it has taken to protect its passengers and crew during the current pandemic. Personal protective equipment is mandatory for all crew, and it has taken steps to reduce interactions on board. Passengers are also subject to thermal screening before boarding.
“When they arrived in Doha and before boarding the flight to Athens, all passengers were tested according to the procedures and established health protocols and were found fit to continue their journey,” Qatar Airlines said in a statement to Ekathimerini.
As Hamad International Airport continues to operate, it has established stringent procedures to help combat the spread of coronavirus. This includes the use of disinfection robots, advanced thermal temperature screening, and ultraviolet luggage disinfection.
With thermal temperature screening in place, how did passengers managed to board the plane before testing positive in Athens? The problem with COVID-19 is that people can be carrying the virus but remain asymptomatic, which would render thermal screening useless in the absence of a fever. This means the coronavirus could continue to be spread by travelers who do not display any symptoms.
Greece plans to reopen for the summer season
Greece plans to allow international passengers to enter the country from June 15th without having to systematically undergo a COVID-19 test or submit to quarantine. However, this does depend on their country of origin.
As Europe looks towards the summer tourist season, Greece is planning to open its borders in stages. International flights will be allowed to land at Athens and Thessaloniki airports. Between June 15th and 30th, travelers from 29 European countries will be subject to random tests, whereas passengers coming from countries deemed as having a high risk of infection, including Qatar, will still have to undergo mandatory testing and quarantine.
From July 1st, all Greek airports will reopen to flights from abroad. At that time, screening procedures will be relaxed, and random screening for the virus will be in place for all arriving passengers. However, as the pandemic continues to unfold, these changes could be revised.
Do you have plans to travel this summer? What do you think of the procedures in place to protect passengers? Let us know in the comments.