Thermal scanners were deployed to airports around the nation as the government admitted it\’s unlikely Australia will avoid a swine flu outbreak.
The speed and scope of swine flu\’s spread around the globe has prompted the government to issue a directive for staff on flights from the Americas to monitor passengers for flu symptoms.
The federal government was also considering making it compulsory for all passengers entering Australia to make health declarations.
Despite having the power to penalise passengers for putting misleading information on the forms, the government did not say it planned to impose penalties.
Four million declaration forms have been printed and are being distributed.
Health Minister Nicola Roxon announced the upgraded measures amid international developments showing just how quickly the virus is spreading.
“We are conscious that whatever steps we take it may not be possible to stop this disease coming into Australia,” she told reporters in Canberra early on Wednesday afternoon.
“About 90 people that are having tests … none of those have yet even been moved to probable status.
“But … it would be very unlikely that we would be able to protect ourselves entirely from this disease if it continues to spread with the speed that it has elsewhere around the world.”
Later, the number of those being tested rose to about 120. That included 51 in NSW, 15 in Queensland, 19 in Victoria, 14 in South Australia, 11 in Western Australia, six in the ACT, six in Tasmania and one in the Northern Territory. More than 50 people have been cleared so far.
The number of Australians who were aboard the same flight as New Zealand high school students infected with swine flu has been revised down to 15 from 22.
All but possibly one of the 15 had been contacted by midday (AEST) on Wednesday, and some had received antiviral drugs as a precaution, Ms Roxon said.
Seven are from Queensland, four from NSW, three from Victoria and one from South Australia.
Two from Queensland had flu-like symptoms but have been given the all-clear from their GPs.
Face masks are selling out in chemists but more stock should be available by Thursday, according to the Pharmacy Guild.
Political leaders assembling for the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Hobart on Thursday are being urged to wear face masks and to be careful about shaking hands.
Ms Roxon said crews would make announcements on all incoming flights to Australia requesting people with flu-like symptoms to identify themselves.
This measure would be in place from late Wednesday afternoon, she said.
“Anybody with flu-like symptoms will be seen by an AQIS (Australian Quarantine Inspection Service) officer, who will assess if any medical attention is required,” she said.
The government will continue taking advice from the Australian Health Protection Committee and chief medical officer Jim Bishop about whether it is necessary to introduce thermal scanning at airports and health declaration cards on international flights.
“It\’s a day-to-day, hour-by-hour proposition and in the event that the government receives advice that thermal scanning should become warranted, I have asked my department to ensure that we are ready to act on that as quickly as possible,” Ms Roxon said.
“There is some debate about how effective it will be as a measure because it identifies people with raised body temperatures that may be (due to) other reasons.”
Eight international airports were due to receive 25 thermal scanners by Thursday, including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Cairns, the Gold Coast and Darwin.
Currently, there are medical professionals at Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne airports.
From Thursday morning, there will also be clinicians at Cairns, Darwin, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth airports.
Ms Roxon said there were three confirmed cases of swine flu in New Zealand, but authorities were treating it as a cluster of 14.