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L.A. Times: Airports Test High-Tech Virus Defenses

By Hugo Martín

Airports equipped with full-body scanners, metal detectors and face-recognition technology to identify potential terrorists are starting to make room for devices to target the latest global threat: travelers infected with the novel coronavirus.

Airports in the U.S. and overseas are testing thermal cameras, sanitation booths and other technologies in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus while reducing the risk of exposing airport screeners to the disease.

“This is going to be part of our normal travel system,” said Richard Salisbury, managing director and founder of Thermoteknix Systems, a British company that has developed thermal cameras for airport use. “It will be part of the fabric of our travel patterns.”

The pandemic has pushed demand for air travel down by as much as 95% in the U.S., and airport operators hope new screening technologies will give passengers renewed confidence to fly again.

At Los Angeles International Airport, once one of the nation’s busiest, interim Chief Executive Justin Erbacci recently announced the creation of a task force that has started to evaluate thermal cameras, touchless kiosks and other technologies to screen passengers for the virus.

Some devices, such as thermal cameras, got a workout screening passengers during the SARS crisis in 2003 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014.

But the use of technology to target infected travelers is expected to be much more intense and widespread than during previous outbreaks.

Hong Kong International Airport last month began to test a booth about the size of an outhouse that takes a person’s temperature via a thermal camera even before the individual is allowed to enter the sealed enclosure.

Inside, ultraviolet light and “nano needles” are used to pierce the cell membrane of bacteria and viruses to disinfect the people who enter. They are also doused with a sanitation spray. The process, which takes about 40 seconds, is being tested on airport staff.

In addition, the Hong Kong airport is deploying autonomous cleaning robots equipped with virus-killing ultraviolet light, applying antimicrobial coatings to frequently touched surfaces and using air sterilizers to disinfect toilets and other passenger areas.

Stationary thermal cameras are most likely to be used at airports and other public facilities; the technology has been used in the past and the cameras can gauge a passenger’s temperature from up to 15 feet away.

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