Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ebola Update: Air Canada flight attendants to wear gloves against Ebola

Ebola Ohio
A Frontier Airlines employee wears gloves as she checks in passengers at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport on Oct. 15. Air Canada flight attendants have won the right to wear gloves. (Tony Dejak/Associated Press)
All Air Canada flight attendants will be able to wear disposable gloves to help protect themselves from the risk of contact with the Ebola virus.

The country's largest carrier said it had no objection to a request from the union representing cabin crews to don hand protection on all flights when collecting passenger waste, such as cups or diapers, that could carry saliva or other body fluids contaminated with the deadly virus.

Normally, Air Canada attendants can wear gloves for in-flight emergencies and duties such as handling food and washroom maintenance.

Union president Michel Cournoyer says flight attendants feel vulnerable, even though health officials say the risk of contamination from the virus is very low and there have been no cases reported in Canada.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is working with the Canada Border Services Agency to identify travellers, who have visited the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and are entering any of Canada's six major airports, to check for symptoms such as fever.

As of last Friday, all such travellers must undergo a mandatory health assessment from a Public Health Agency quarantine officer.

A total of 76 travellers arriving in Toronto and Montreal between Sept. 26 and Oct. 10 were pulled aside for further examination. None has been found to be infected with Ebola.

But the union says flight attendants are unlikely to know if a passenger is contagious as the incubation period without symptoms, such as fever or body aches, can last up to 21 days.

Air Transat attendants to wear gloves
The approval from Air Canada regarding disposable gloves is in line with similar actions by Air Transat.

Concern within the airline industry was raised this week when news that a nurse was diagnosed with Ebola, after treating an infected Liberian man in Dallas, and flew on a plane full of passengers in the U.S. But health officials downplayed the possibility that any of the 132 passengers on Frontier Airlines Flight 1143 from Cleveland to Dallas-Fort Worth could have been infected, because the nurse showed no Ebola symptoms during the flight.

Nonetheless, U.S. public health officials were notifying other passengers.

Industry observers don't believe heightened fears about Ebola will reduce passenger demand in Canada as it did more than a decade ago with the deadly SARS outbreak.

WestJet Airlines says it doesn't expect any negative impact on travel demand in Canada since most people are aware the risk of transmission is low.

Robert Kokonis of airline consulting firm AirTrav expects the impact could increase if an infected person that visited West Africa slips through Canadian screening efforts, or if a passenger on a Frontier Airlines plane that carried an infected U.S. nurse falls ill.

On Wednesday, Ottawa said a team of health experts and epidemiologists is standing by should Ebola arrive in Canada.

The World Health Organization says the number of deaths from Ebola is expected to climb above 4,500 in Africa.

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