Emirates has started testing passengers for Covid-19 before flying out of Dubai, in an effort to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Passengers on Wednesday’s flight to Tunisia underwent a blood test at check-in before departing Dubai, according to the statement sent by the airline. Results were available within 10 minutes.
The Gulf carrier said it was the first to conduct the rapid blood tests, and plans to extend the procedure to more flights.
"We are working on plans to scale up testing capabilities in the future and extend it to other flights," remarked Adel Al Redha, Emirates Chief Operating Officer.
"This will enable us to conduct on-site tests and provide immediate confirmation for Emirates passengers travelling to countries that require COVID-19 test certificates."
Travel at the UAE remains in lockdown, with citizens requiring special exceptions to leave the country and no transit passengers allowed – a move which has restricted Emirates and Etihad to repatriation flights, rather then their usual role of connecting far-flung countries via their respective hubs at Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
Etihad plans to trial new self-service devices at its hub airport in Abu Dhabi by the end of April to identify travelers with medical conditions, including the early stages of coronavirus.
Etihad trials medical scanners
The contactless devices, developed with Australian company Elenium Automation, will monitor temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate at 'touchpoints' such as a check-in or information kiosk, a bag drop facility, a security point or immigration gate.
The system will automatically suspend the self-service check-in or bag drop process if a passenger’s vital signs indicate potential symptoms of illness, and then then divert to a teleconference or alert qualified staff on site, who can make further assessments and manage travellers as appropriate.
The one-month trial will initially include a range of volunteers and, as flights resume, outbound passengers.
Etihad says the technology is not designed or intended to diagnose medical conditions, but merely act as "an early warning indicator which will help to identify people with general symptoms, so that they can be further assessed by medical experts, potentially preventing the spread of some conditions to others preparing to board flights to multiple destinations," says Jorg Oppermann, Vice President Hub and Midfield Operations, Etihad Airways.
“It has long been the case that aircraft, with their highly sophisticated air-recycling systems and standards of hygiene are not the transmission vehicle for illnesses."
"We are testing this technology because we believe it will not only help in the current COVID-19 outbreak, but also into the future, with assessing a passenger’s suitability to travel and thus minimising disruptions."
Such tests may offer one way to get travelers back in the air with some measure of peace-of-mind. Airlines across the globe have had to halt flights and ground their fleets due to restrictions and a lack of demand while countries try to contain the coronavirus pandemic. The International Air Transport Association estimates the industry may suffer more than $490 billion in lost revenue this year.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg News