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Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

Date: January 22, 2020


January 21, 2020 — The novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, in December 2019, is creating growing concern for air travel. The first known case has now been confirmed in the United States. AFA is contacting our airlines in an effort to put in place information and precautions for crewmembers. We are sharing what we know about the virus now, although health officials are still determining the full implications of the virus and how it is spread.

NOTE: It is important that crew redouble efforts to take the best steps against spread of communicable disease. Review universal precautions in your Flight Attendant manuals.

The virus implicated in this outbreak is part of a large family of coronaviruses that circulate in animals and occasionally cross species barriers to infect humans. Past examples of coronaviruses that have infected humans and adversely affected international travel include SARS and MERS.

Within the past week, there have been reports of deaths due to the virus in China and travelers returning from China and Thailand with infections in Japan, Korea and most recently, the state of Washington in the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated, “[w]hile originally thought to be spreading from animal-to-person, there are growing indications that limited person-to-person spread is happening. It’s unclear how easily this virus is spreading between people.” CDC also reports that since January 17, 2020 they have begun “implementing public health entry screening at San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), and Los Angeles (LAX) airports” and this week “will add entry health screening at two more airports – Atlanta (ATL) and Chicago (ORD).”

AFA is calling on all airlines to institute emergency measures immediately, including providing crew members the latest information regarding the 2019-nCoV outbreak, identification of signs/symptoms of illness (in oneself and others), and procedures to manage potentially ill persons – utilizing information from relevant U.S. authorities including the CDC, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and international authorities including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). We are also encouraging airlines to adopt AFA recommendations from our Communicable Disease Incident Response Checklists.

We will provide additional updates as more information is available. We will continue to press airlines for action on this as we work to keep aviation’s first responders, our counterparts in the flight deck, and our passengers safe and healthy.

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