The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Flight passengers express concern over lack of social distancing when travelling to Malta

Kevin Schembri Orland Monday, 13 July 2020, 07:43 Last update: about 21 days ago

Maltese passengers returning to Malta have expressed concern at the way the Covid-19 situation is being handled both by airlines and at the airport when arriving.

Maltese citizens who returned to the island last week explained how their flight was jam packed with people packing each row, with no social distancing between seats, expressing their concern. The lack of social distancing they said was also visible upon landing, when boarding the packed shuttle bus that drove them to the terminal from the plane.

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The airport at the beginning of July reopened for commercial flights, after a period of being shut down due to Covid-19 restrictions. The virus has hit the aviation industry hard, as well as the tourism industry. Malta has thus far opened for commercial flights to a select number of destinations.

While Covid-19 numbers are low in Malta, there are concerns that with the opening of the airport the virus could again strike.

This newsroom was told by passengers that they were handed forms on the plane to sign. One form was to declare whether they had been, in the past 14 days, in countries other than those listed on the form (the countries which people can currently travel freely to from Malta). The other form saw passengers declare where they would be residing while in the country and to list their contact details. However a passenger raised concern about there not being a personal health declaration form.

The airport building itself was relatively empty and thus people were able to spread out, however the closure of the bathroom upon entry into the building meant that queues formed outside the other bathroom available, where people did cluster, a passenger said. The same passenger expressed concern at the lack of social distancing seen throughout the journey.

While masks were worn on the plane for example, being seated shoulder to shoulder was a worrying and unexpected experience, the passenger said.

A different passenger posting on Facebook commented about the empty hand sanitisers he had found in the airport. Concerns were also raised regarding passengers being checked for temperature, given that passengers did not see anyone having their temperature taken.

This newsroom contacted the Malta International Airport, and asked for their comment about the concerns regarding the airport and the lack of social distancing measures on shuttle buses.

“Malta International Airport has implemented a set of comprehensive measures – centering mainly on more rigorous cleaning, hygiene, and social distancing - to safeguard guests as they travel through the airport. The full success of these measures depends greatly on the cooperation of all stakeholders and third parties involved, including airlines, ground handling companies, and the public health authorities,” a representative of the airport told this newsroom.

Throughout the terminal building more than 2,100 signs and floor markings have been installed to remind passengers to keep safe distances at every stage of the journey, the representative said. “These are complemented by public announcements in Maltese and English, which serve to remind guests at regular intervals to practise social distancing, keep their face masks on for the duration of the journey, and that waiting times in certain areas of the terminal may be slightly longer.”

While members of the airport team are deployed to monitor the situation on the floor and ensure that passengers are in fact observing distancing guidelines, it goes without saying that the full cooperation of airport guests in this regard is crucial, the representative explained.

Regarding temperature checks, “The company’s investment in nine thermal screening cameras, installed at the main entry points, was undertaken with the dual aim of monitoring the body temperature of outgoing and incoming passengers with the least inconvenience possible and limiting the interaction between passengers and the healthcare professionals manning these scanning stations.”

The representative said that other measures which have been taken by Malta International Airport to limit the unnecessary contact between guests and front-line staff include the installation of protective panes at customer service desks and the introduction of new technologies that allow for the contactless scanning of passports and boarding passes.

“While human interaction is being kept to a minimum for the benefit of both airport guests and employees, the company has assembled an Airport Care Team having 16 members. The roaming team, which can be easily identified by blue high-visibility vests, have been trained to reassure passengers who may be feeling uneasy about travelling again and answer any queries travelling guests may have. Members of this team are also responsible for overseeing the overall cleanliness of the terminal, flagging any shortcomings to management for immediate rectification and, aided by the airport’s cluster detection technology which sends real-time alerts, seeing that social distances are kept.”

 

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