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Airlines to ban H1N1 sufferers?
 
South Africans flying on British Airways and Virgin Airlines could be thrown off flights if they are suspected of suffering from swine flu.
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South Africans flying on British Airways and Virgin Airlines could be thrown off flights if they are suspected of suffering from swine flu.

Both airlines have issued strict guidelines internationally, ordering staff to remove passengers from their flights if anyone is not pronounced medically fit to travel by doctors they have on standby at airports around the world.

British Airways said it would not reimburse passengers for the cancellation and that travellers would have to claim from their travel insurance.

Virgin Airlines, however, said it would rebook passengers free once they were fit to travel.

Robyn Chalmers, SAA head of group corporate affairs, said the airline had implemented measures to prevent the transfer of the H1N1 virus on board its aircraft, in accordance with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.


"Any person presenting with illness at check-in will be managed in accordance with existing procedures (referred to the Airport Clinic to evaluate their fitness to fly or get clearance to fly after consulting sisters or doctors on call).

"No additional screening measures are being taken for swine flu as it presents like normal flu and our staff have been trained to recognise signs of illness and how to deal with it," she said.

Swine flu, which has claimed three lives in South Africa and left hundreds ill, has also affected travel by air, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

The organisation said international visitor numbers slumped 8 percent year-on-year to April and were expected to drop 5-6 percent over the year.

Increasing unemployment and uncertainty over the impact of the H1N1 swine flu virus were also inhibiting a recovery this year.

The organisation's secretary-general Taleb Rifai told a meeting of the Tourism Society in London that the airline industry could revive only with sporting events such as the Fifa 2010 World Cup and Olympics in London in 2012.

"We face a serious drop in demand. Going back to the good old days is probably unrealistic. Governments have to understand we require policies and actions that do not hinder travel," he said.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) said weak passenger demand and falling yields pushed revenue and traffic on international markets down in June, but reported signs that the market was stabilising.

Iata, which represents 230 airlines comprising 93 percent of scheduled global traffic, said passenger demand fell 7,2 percent overall in June, with African carriers showing a 20,2 percent fall in demand.

British Airways said on Friday it recommended customers take travel insurance when buying holidays or flights so that they would have medical cover if they felt unwell.

The airline said it was following usual procedures on health issues and continuing to work with the World Health Organisation, Iata, airports and government agencies to ensure appropriate measures were in place to protect customers and staff.

"BA has had a pandemic flu planning group for the past few years to handle contingency planning in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak.

"It also has a medical team monitoring advice from the authorities and the evolving situation."

Nombuso Shabalala, communications manager for the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said that the institute had recommended people delay non-essential travel.

According to the Department of Health, there are 1 910 confirmed cases of H1N1 in the country, including that of a 12-year-old boy confirmed in June. Most of the cases are spread between Gauteng and Western Cape, though Northern Cape is least affected.



This article was originally published on page 4 of Tribune on August 16, 2009

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