Emirates begins rapid-testing passengers for coronavirus
In a move that could be a step toward making air travel palatable to the public again, Emirates Airline has begun conducing rapid on-site coronavirus tests for passengers.
The testing — the first rapid testing by an airline — began with passengers on a flight from Dubai to Tunisia on Wednesday.
The analysis is a blood test with results within 10 minutes.
Emirates says it is working to scale up testing capabilities and extend it to other flights. It says its testing could also be used to provide confirmation for Emirates passengers traveling to countries that require Covid-19 test certificates.
“The testing process has gone smoothly and we would like to take this opportunity to thank the Dubai Health Authority for their initiatives and innovative solutions. This would have not been possible without the support of Dubai Airport and other government authorities,” Adel Al Redha, Emirates’ Chief Operating Officer, was quoted in a statement, as saying.
“The health and safety of staff and passengers at the airport remain of paramount importance.”
The testing accompanies other changes on Emirates. Passengers are now required to wear masks throughout boarding and flight. Gone are in-flight magazines, and carry-on luggage isn’t permitted – only small items like handbags and briefcases.
The airline’s check-in and boarding formalities have also been adapted with social distancing in mind. Protective barriers have been installed at each check-in desk. Gloves, masks and hand sanitisers have been made mandatory for all employees at the airport.
The tests may offer one way to get travellers 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 (IATA) estimates the industry may suffer more than $300 billion in lost revenue this year.
Emirates began its service to the Maldives in May 1987 using a single Boeing 727 aircraft.
With three times daily non-stop service between Dubai and Male, Emirates has since become a major airline operating to the Maldives and a preferred airline for tourists visiting the island nation from far corners of the world, especially Europe.
However, all international airlines had suspended their operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa late March in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Even before the visa suspension, the Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from some of the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Visitors from three regions of Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), two regions of France (Île-de-France and Grand Est) and two regions of South Korea were also banned from entering the country.
All direct flights to and from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran were also cancelled.
Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.
The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.
Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.
However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.
With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.
Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.
However, the government is at present projecting a possible 5.7 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.
On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.
Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.
A three-case cluster, detected in Male Wednesday, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus and put the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Maldives to 23.
However, 16 out of the 23 have made full recoveries. Six Maldivian patients are being treated at designated quarantine facilities, whilst another two had been repatriated to their home country of Italy.
The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.
The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including a nationwide closing of schools, colleges and universities. Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.
Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.
A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.
Following Wednesday’s confirmation of community transmission, capital Male is in lockdown for 24 hours, as health authorities conduct contact tracing in one of the world’s most densely populated cities.
The lockdown bans all public activity and transport in capital Male and its suburbs of Hulhumale and Villimale for a day. Any movement in and out of the city and its suburbs as well as the neighbouring industrial islands of Thilafushi and Gulhifalhu are also banned.