Sydney Airport has started to temperature check every international arrival before allowing them into the country in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The order, made by the NSW Health Department, sparked major delays at the arrivals hall on Thursday, with passengers standing within touching distance of one another as they queued for immigration – ignoring government advice to keep 1.5metres apart.
Despite most international flights being cancelled, planes arrived from locations such as Doha in Qatar, Shanghai in China and Tokyo in Japan.
An outraged pilot told Daily Mail Australia he was ‘angry and disappointed’ when he saw the estimated 300 to 400 people crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in one room.
The pilot confronted an Australian Border Force officer about it. ‘I asked him, are you aware of the national guidelines for social distancing? He said ”yeah”.
‘Then he shrugged his shoulders and said ”that’s not my problem”.’
But the Community and Public Sector Union blamed the ‘mass confusion’ on ‘badly communicated changes’ which took effect on Thursday.
‘Today all passengers are undergoing increased health screening. The testing space is too small for all passengers, and disembarking is not being staggered to allow for social distancing,’ the union said.
I am livid 😡
This was international arrivals at @SydneyAirport this morn.
When @AusBorderForce was asked wtf re #SocialDistancing the reply was “not our problem, that’s biosecurity.”#coronavirusaustralia #covid19australia pic.twitter.com/5tSxzEUZsg
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally shared footage of the crammed arrivals hall and dubbed the video as ‘concerning’.
‘The government – specifically [home affairs minister] Peter Dutton needs to explain what is going on here, what protocols are in place at airports and what directions are being given to Australian Border Force,’ Ms Keneally wrote.
Biosecurity staff and nurses were originally only tested people who had travelled from high-risk countries.
Testing is being conducted in a small staff-only corridor between the arrival gates and immigration hallway.
CPSU Deputy National President Brooke Muscat-Bentley described the scenes at Sydney airport as a ‘direct failure of government’.
‘Agriculture Minister Littleproud is missing in action. It is astonishing that the government is telling the nation to social distance and take the up most precautions but cannot take steps to assure us at our border,’ she said.
‘The government has known what was coming, but have just been unable or unwilling to prepare for it.’
A spokeswoman from the federal agriculture department told The Guardian the social distancing measures were to be enforced by the airport.
‘The responsibility for managing airport terminal infrastructure including arrival halls, luggage pick-up and customs processing sits with the airport corporations … not [the department] and not Border Force,’ she said.
But a spokeswoman from Sydney Airport said their response had always been guided by the advice from health authorities.
‘We are supporting federal and state government agencies as they conduct health assessments and roll out passenger information campaigns regarding self-isolation and social distancing,’ she said.
The video of the passengers in the queue for immigration quickly went viral after the pilot’s friend, broadcast voice coach Sally Prosser, posted it to Twitter.
While signs have been put up around Sydney Airport to tell people to keep 1.5 metres apart, those in queues were almost cheek-to-jowl, with the pilot saying there were no lines marked on the ground indicating where people should stand, as there are at New Zealand airports.
‘I’m just furious given that coronavirus is in our country from international travellers – via a cruise ship or aeroplane.
‘Here we are and federal officers are playing no part whatsoever in keeping peoples’ distance.
‘It’s just another example of people not playing their part in social distancing,’ said the pilot.
‘If we don’t get a hold of these increased numbers of cases, we’re all going into lockdown.’
Sydney Airport has put up social distancing signs, rolled out more hand sanitiser dispensers and switched to hospital grade disinfectants and cleaning products.
A spokesman told Daily Mail Australia: ‘Every single passenger that arrives is spoken to about their obligations.
‘We have signs all over the airport, more than one-hundred digital screens, and have flooded our social media channels with messages about social-distancing.
‘We have security staff walking through the terminals, reminding people to comply. We need people to listen and show responsibility.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment.