WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday it will begin enhanced screening of travelers from West Africa arriving at five of the country’s largest airports as it increases efforts to prevent the spread of a deadly Ebola outbreak.
The enhanced screening will start at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday and be extended next week to Newark Liberty in New Jersey, Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta.
Combined, those airports receive more than 94 percent of travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the countries hardest hit by Ebola, with JFK accounting for nearly half of them, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
About 150 travellers from the West African countries arrive at the five airports each day, a tiny portion of the total number of international travelers at the five airports.
“The number of travellers is relatively small. We’re talking about 150 per day, so it’s not an effort that would be particularly disruptive to large numbers of people,” CDC Director Dr Thomas Frieden told a news conference in Atlanta.
“We think it’s manageable.”
The US government has been under pressure from lawmakers to enhance screening and even ban flights from some West African countries since a Liberian national became first person diagnosed with Ebola on US soil. Thomas Eric Duncan, who died on Wednesday, left Liberia last week and flew to Dulles and then traveled to Dallas.
Customs and Border Patrol officers will escort travellers from the three countries to a screening area, where trained staff will observe them for signs of illness, ask about their health and possible exposure to Ebola and take their temperature with a non-invasive device, the CDC said.
If they have fever, any other symptoms or give answers on a health questionnaire that point to possible Ebola exposure, they will be evaluated by a CDC quarantine station public health officer. Travelers who are deemed in need of further evaluation will be referred to local public health authorities.
Frieden said health officials believe the new measures will make Americans safer. “We recognise that whatever we do, until the outbreak is over in West Africa, we can’t get the risk to zero in this country,” he said.