Heathrow airport hit by delays following coronavirus-related concerns
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Public Health England guidelines result in as many as eight flights being caught up in checks or delays
As many as eight flights at Heathrow airport were said to have been caught up in delays or checks as a result of government health officials responding to coronavirus-related concerns over passengers feeling unwell.
United Airlines confirmed that staff in London had been providing assistance to a flight from San Francisco which had landed at Heathrow following reports of an individual becoming unwell onboard.
A man who had been on the flight said a passenger had been taken to the back of the plane ahead of the arrival of health officials before passengers were allowed to disembark after half an hour.
“There was an initial announcement that someone had taken ill and would be taken off,” said Andy West, a public relations executive at Hotwire, told the Guardian.
“Shortly afterwards he said that there was a suspected case of coronavirus and that the passenger had been isolated at the back of the plane.”
West said the pilot had said that there were seven other planes at Heathrow experiencing similar issues, including a number in front of it on the tarmac which were due to be visited. After disembarking, passengers were asked to complete a form and were questioned about their recent travel history and symptoms.
“There was no sharp intake of breath when the pilot made the second announcement but I think that a lot of people, including myself, were a bit anxious and probably worried. I really hope the person doesn’t have it and that if we don’t hear anything then no news will be good news,” he said.
The United Airlines flight which was affected was United flight 901, according to the US airline, which added: “The safety of our customers and employees is our highest priority and we continue to work closely with local authorities.”
Heathrow airport, which was unable to say how many flights had been affected, said that the airport was operating as normal. It added that Public Health England were managing Coronavirus-related issues on the ground, which may require some aircrafts to be slightly held up when disembarking.
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are working closely with Public Health England officials to facilitate their access to the airport so that they can implement their enhanced monitoring measures as a precaution.”
“In line with the latest Public Health England advice, we are encouraging passengers and colleagues to maintain good hand hygiene and report any suspected symptoms to NHS 111. We would also encourage passengers to check their flight details with their airlines, and anyone with individual questions or concerns about Coronavirus or travel to China to refer to guidance from Public Health England and the Foreign Office.”
Public Health England said it was not commenting on individual situations and activities at airports but added that it was carrying out “enhanced monitoring” of direct flights from China, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Macau. This is in addition to the usual public health response to someone becoming unwell on a plane from any destination.
Enhanced monitoring includes early warning by a pilot of any passenger illness as soon as possible and formal assurance by the captain on the health of passengers prior to disembarkation.
Virgin Atlantic said it had not been impacted by the reports at Heathrow today. British Airways, the airline with the largest number of flights using the airport, was also approached for comment.