Who is actually responsible for screening passengers at airports?

I’ve spent some time trying to establish who’s responsible for screening passengers at airports, and what it should involve, after Jetstar passengers walked straight off a plane in Sydney earlier this week.

State health departments do the work but the specifics remain somewhat cloudy.

Jetstar chief executive Gareth Evans on Thursday claimed NSW Health had failed to meet the flight on Tuesday night but noted passengers had already been screened prior to departure in Melbourne.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt instructed his department to investigate the state protocols to make sure there were “no excuses” for future breaches.

NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant has since made it clear planes will not be allowed to disembark until a NSW Health team is in position at the gate.

Hunt acknowledges airport screening is the responsibility of state health authorities but after Tuesday’s misstep instructed his department “to work with the relevant state authorities to make sure that the individuals are all contacted and traced and that the standards and protocols are changed and in place”.

However, when Guardian Australia contacted the federal health department on Thursday about what screening standards and protocols were currently in place or being reexamined, a spokeswoman referred us back to the individual health authorities.

I then asked specific questions about how passengers should be screened — including where and under what legal obligations — but the spokeswoman instead detailed government advice regarding “physical distancing and hygiene measures” on board noting “specific distancing has not been mandated for domestic flights”.

We contacted several state health authorities — including NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia — with specific questions about where and how screening of passengers was being conducted.

A spokeswoman for the Victorian department said:

Anyone arriving into Victoria via plane is required to identify where they are travelling from and what their reasons for travel are.

Authorised officers have the ability to issue prohibition notices to those found breaching the restrictions. If someone is suspected of having Covid-19 airlines can refuse access to the plane, regardless of the reasons for travelling.

We understand the checks involve nurses taking travellers’ temperatures and asking about potential symptoms at staging areas before they enter a plane.

None of the other health departments responded.

A Jetstar spokesman said the airline sends warnings to customers about the travel restrictions in each state ahead of their flights but referred the question on screening responsibility to “each individual airport”.

A spokesman for Sydney airport said airport management did not conduct screening and inquiries should go to NSW Health while a spokesman for the Australian Airports Association referred us to the federal health department.



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