The headlines were enough to send the hapless holidaymaker straight to the local surgical supply store for a face mask.
‘Airlines will ban swine flu suspects‘, announced the front page of the Sunday Times; the following day its stablemate, The Times, picked up the theme on its front page: ‘Airlines to turn away ‘swine flu’ passengers – sneezing tourists will need a doctor’s note to fly’.
This is the last thing that millions of British families needed to hear as they prepare for their much-deserved holidays. Instead of: ‘Did you pack the sunscreen?’ and ‘Where did I put those passports?’, breakfast conversation has changed to: ‘What tests will there be at the airport, and how do we pass them?’.
The headlines invoke images of masked health workers on duty at check-in, taking travellers’ temperatures and interrogating suspects about their fitness to travel.
China has taken steps to test arriving passengers – as dozens of British schoolchildren found to their cost, when they were quarantined in a Beijing hotel because some members of their party were carrying swine flu.
But it is frankly implausible that, when I turn up with my family at Stansted on Sunday, we will undergo health checks.
In fact, what British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are doing is what they – and most other carriers – have always done: discreetly observing passengers prior to boarding for signs of poor health. They do this partly because of the high cost of medical diversions, and partly because of the risk that a contagious disease could be passed on to other travellers or cabin crew.
Sure, everyone’s sensitivities are heightened because of the swine flu pandemic. But at a time when airlines are doing everything they can to lure passengers on board, they are not about to start demanding a ‘fit to travel’ note from passengers who are at risk from swine flu – a category which, if I am not mistaken, applies to all of us.
I am not a medical man, which is no doubt a relief to some readers. But my prescription for the summer is an outbreak of common sense, so that the relatively small number of people who may be infectious stay at home, while everyone else gets the holiday they deserve.
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