Health dept insists airport thermal scanners ‘not sub-par’_1

The national health department has shot down claims by its former supplier that the wrong thermal cameras were being used at OR Tambo International Airport. GoThermal managing director Philip Smerkovits expressed concern that the airport’s disease screening equipment had been “downgraded” to ineffective handheld thermal cameras to screen for abnormal body temperatures since last year. Last week, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that temperature screenings using thermal cameras would be conducted at the 12 ports of entry, including OR Tambo. Responding to allegations that these cameras were sub-par, departmental spokesperson Popo Maja said this was not the case. “The department...
The national health department has shot down claims by its former supplier that the wrong thermal cameras were being used at OR Tambo International Airport.

GoThermal managing director Philip Smerkovits expressed concern that the airport’s disease screening equipment had been “downgraded” to ineffective handheld thermal cameras to screen for abnormal body temperatures since last year.

Last week, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that temperature screenings using thermal cameras would be conducted at the 12 ports of entry, including OR Tambo.

Responding to allegations that these cameras were sub-par, departmental spokesperson Popo Maja said this was not the case.

“The department wishes to reiterate once again that the country is adequately prepared to early detect and respond to the possible importation of a novel coronavirus case,” said Maja. “Stationary and handheld thermal scanners are utilised in ports of entry, and both reflect the temperature of a traveller on the screen.

“The equipment used is in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.”

The department was using a dual temperature screening system which included non-invasive thermal scanners as well as thermometers.

Smerkovits claimed the cameras were not calibrated to measure human body temperatures accurately and were too vulnerable to human error, while the system being used beforehand was more automated and thus more reliable.

But Maja pointed out that detecting abnormal body temperatures was only one method of disease screening and could not be relied upon on its own.

An additional measure was a health questionnaire for all travellers arriving on direct flights from high-risk countries.

“People could pass through ports of entry while they are well and only become ill later,” Maja said.

“For this reason, a very important part of South Africa’s preparedness is active case finding for people who have travelled to affected areas and then become ill.”

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