Airports to screen all passengers entering Australia for swine flu

Thermal scanners will start screening travellers for high temperatures at eight of Australia's international airports this afternoon to help prevent swine flu from entering the nation's borders.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon announced the measure in Melbourne this afternoon in response to the World Health Organisation's warning that a pandemic was imminent.

As the scanners come online, 51 Victorians have now been tested for influenza A, which can be a precursor to swine flu, and 41 have been cleared.

Of the 10 waiting for test results are two passengers who had swabs taken by nurses at Melbourne airport this morning after returning from the Americas.

A Department of Human Services spokesman said the surge in the number of Victorians tested included people living in regional areas.

"They are probably people who are in the category of returned travellers who felt all OK when they got back but have since felt the need to seek a test and we're very happy about that. That's what we want people to do,'' he said.

The people tested had gone to general practitioners with complaints of flu-like symptoms and had swabs taken for testing. They have been told to stay at home as much as possible while waiting for test results.

Ms Roxon said that, although the heat scanners would not pick up every possible case of swine flu that might enter the country, she had been advised that it would help protect the country from an outbreak.

She asked for passengers to be patient because the scanners could cause significant delays.


"We would ask that incoming passengers and their families understand that this will cause some delay and disruption at our international airports but we believe that this is a sensible measure to be taking," Ms Roxon said.

"Obviously it's a public health issue of great concern."

Ms Roxon said the machines would have to scan each person individually so their temperatures could be taken accurately.

"It will identify everyone with a raised temperature, which may not include flu let alone swine flu, but what it means is anyone with a raised temperature will go through the process with a clinical assessment. Many of those people may well be given the nod and sent on their way.

"It won't mean we will necessarily be able to identify everyone with swine flu ... because there is an incubation period. Some people who may be carrying the disease may not have a raised temperature at the time they go through the scanner.

"It's all about us taking additional precautions to try to delay the entry of this disease into Australia.''

Ms Roxon said that as of tomorrow, all passengers entering Australia would also be asked to fill out health declaration cards, which include a list of influenza symptoms. 

"These forms will alert people to the symptoms of flu-like diseases. We've had 4 million produced ... They don't specifically refer to swine flu, but to these types of diseases," she said.

"People will be asked to identify if they have any flu-like symptoms. They will be asked to provide addresses and contact details for here in Australia, which will emphasise the importance of the risks that are inherent when we have this sort of situation across the world.

"It will also make it easier for tracing if that should that become necessary."

- with Mex Cooper, AAP