Experts call for better disease prevention at airports

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RANKING DROP:
Taoyuan Airport’s cleanliness ranking slipped out of Skytrax’s top 10, prompting calls from a lawmaker for more janitors and better hygiene contracts

  • By Tung Kuan-yi / Staff Reporter

Experts said yesterday that airports should improve disinfection and divide airport workers into separate groups to avoid cluster infections as border control measures for COVID-19 are relaxed.

A cluster of COVID-19 infections occurred in January among workers at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, including concierges, security guards, baggage cart handlers and accident prevention taxi drivers. illnesses assigned to the care of passengers.

The cluster led to thousands of workers being checked and a group of experts inspecting the airport‘s disease prevention procedures.

Photo: ANC

Among British consultancy Skytrax’s list of the world’s cleanest airports, Taoyuan Airport’s ranking has been declining since 2017 and it was dropped from the top 10 airports this year.

“We shouldn’t make the same mistake again,” said Democratic Progressive Party lawmaker Tsai Shih-ying (蔡適應).

As the COVID-19 pandemic subsides and other countries have reopened their borders, Taiwan is starting to lift some of its border restrictions, he said.

Photo: Chu Pei-hsiung, Taipei Times

As new SARS-CoV-2 subvariants have emerged, managing airport environmental remediation is the first line of defense, Tsai said.

In addition to arranging a good flow of passengers to avoid infections, airports could recruit more janitors and improve their knowledge of disease prevention to prevent cluster infections, he said.

China International Transport and Logistics Association chairman Lee Mi (李彌) said Taoyuan Airport is the country’s main gateway to the world, so the many people who cross could easily spread the virus.

Airport janitors should be split into separate groups who work shifts in specific areas, he said, adding that the airport’s two terminals could be cleaned by two separate companies to reduce the risk of infections and increase efficiency, as they would compete with each other.

Janitors should also receive more on-the-job training to improve their health and safety knowledge, Lee said.

Chou Hsien-jang (周賢章), board member of the Taipei Medical Association, said Taiwan faces outbreaks of Omicron BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.75 subvariants later than in many countries, so that he can learn from the measures they have taken.

Taiwan also has national health insurance and an efficient healthcare system, so it should focus on how best to use its medical resources, he added.

Separately, Japanese travel agents and tour operators, invited by the Tourism Bureau, arrived at Taoyuan Airport yesterday afternoon.

Taiwan closed its borders to tourists in March 2020, and as the government decided to gradually reopen to foreign visitors, the Tourism Bureau asked the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to allow the group to enter under the model of the “trade bubble”.

The 25 Japanese travel agents and tour operators are taking part in a four-day familiarization trip. They are not required to follow the “3+4” quarantine rule, but a negative polymerase chain reaction test is still required.

The group is to visit several tourist destinations in northern Taiwan, including Taipei 101, New Taipei City’s Pingsi District (平溪), the colorful houses of Zhengbin Fishing Port in Keelung (正濱漁港), and the Keelung Heping Island Park (和平島公園), as well as taking a ride on the double-decker Taipei sightseeing bus.

Taiwan recorded 20,824 new local COVID-19 cases and 34 deaths yesterday, the CECC said.

Those who died ranged in age from 20 to over 90. Twelve of those who died were unvaccinated, while 33 suffered from chronic or other serious illnesses, he said.

Additional reporting by Lee I-chia and CNA

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