Updated | Airport prayer room and departure gate were not fumigated immediately, workers complain

More airport workers voice concern after Spanish student who was leaving Malta fell sick and tested positive for Covid-19 • MIA says fumigation of rooms where teenager was happened soon after case was confirmed positive

Workers are concerned because none of the areas where the passenger who tested positive were fumigated
Workers are concerned because none of the areas where the passenger who tested positive were fumigated

Updated at 1:25pm with MIA statement

The prayer room and a departure gate at Malta International Airport were not fumigated after a passenger fell ill and tested positive for the coronavirus, MaltaToday is informed.

The 15-year-old Spanish student was with a group that were leaving Malta on Sunday evening when he felt ill at the departure gates. He eventually tested positive for the coronavirus and is being held in hospital.

But now, more airport workers have come forward with their concerns after Norman Vella, a border control officer, yesterday vented his anger and frustration at what he claimed was the gross mishandling of the case.

Vella said that the student was tested at Gate 8 in the departures area and was then transported with other people who were with him to the prayer room. None of these areas were fumigated and a couple, unconnected to the group, moved into the Gate 8 area shortly after the student was tested, to feed their baby.

A security officer who spoke to MaltaToday on condition of anonymity has backed up Vella’s claims, insisting workers were very concerned.

He said the people with the student were held in the prayer room, which is not an isolation room but a room in the non-Schengen departures area, which at the time was full of people leaving Malta. 

He added that close to the prayer room there are two shops, which were neither closed as a precaution.

“These passengers should at least have been put in the airport clinic but they never did. When we spoke to the nurse attending them she replied to us that they were human too and not prisoners, so they should be allowed to go out of the room. The reality is that they were allowed to roam freely in the Schengen arrivals area using toilets that passengers and staff use. Those premises were not fumigated immediately and none of us who were duty have been tested as a precaution,” the security officer told MaltaToday.

He also complained that their superiors have told them to reuse face masks instead of throwing them away after an hour, as recommended by the health authorities.

“The masks we were given are dust masks and they are limited in number,” he said, expressing concern at the risks airport workers may be facing.

Airport staff are working under a lot pressure despite a drastic reduction in flights as travel restrictions were introduced gradually.

MIA responds

Malta International Airport said that the fumigation of the room where the infected passenger was held was “ordered immediately, with the actual fumigation process being carried out shortly after this room was vacated”.

The company said other areas indicated by the public health authorities were also fumigated to further minimise the risk of transmission.

MaltaToday is informed that the fumigation took place yesterday when the tests on the passenger resulted positive for Covid-19 and not earlier, when the youngster was taken ill from the departures area.

MIA said it was taking a host of other measures, including the installation of additional hand sanitisers, the introduction of a stepped-up terminal cleaning schedule, the introduction of heightened queue management, and internal awareness-raising campaigns, to safeguard the safety and wellbeing of employees and airport guests.

The company said this was a stressful period for customer-facing airport employees and urged for prudence.

“MIA would like to take this opportunity to thank airport employees for their unflinching support and commitment towards service delivery, particularly the team involved in the handling of this case under the expert guidance of the public health authorities,” the company statement said.

Clarification:

An earlier version of this report stated that fumigation never took place. It appears the areas were fumigated yesterday evening with the complaint being that this did not happen immediately the patient was found to be sick but many hours later.

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