Mary Wald

/ forwarding the messages that build a better day

In the last two weeks I have taken six flights to three countries in Asia. At each airport, before landing, I filled out a yellow card, checking off any symptoms of illness. My temperature was then screened before I was allowed to enter the country. The only country that asked me nothing — and checked nothing — on my arrival was the United States, as I was coming home through San Francisco airport. I found it particularly particularly odd as I was arriving on Singapore Airlines, which has 16 routes into China, seven into Japan and two into South Korea.

Robust screening of international travelers to the U.S. only began in mid-March. Unfortunately timed with Americans rushing home from Europe, it created mobs of passengers waiting up to six hours shoulder to shoulder, contrary to all social distancing guidelines.

This need not have happened.

According to 2019 figures, John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the airports where serious bottlenecks occurred, processes more than 171,000 passengers daily on average. By contrast, Changi Airport in Singapore receives more than 187,000 passengers daily. They have no such bottlenecks or mobs, despite each international passenger completing health cards and walking through a temperature scanner. The difference is professional, organized planning backed by national government at the highest levels.

Changi Airport implemented health screening on Jan. 22. In the approximately six weeks that the U.S. lagged behind — while some elected leaders and influential media pundits were still calling coronavirus a “hoax” — it’s a safe estimate that more than 25 million people arrived unscreened through U.S. airports from international flights.

Even more shocking was the conversation around me after I returned, which is unlike any other in the world right now — acrimony, conspiracy theories and finger pointing between political parties, Facebook awash in stories of a “hoax” disease and claims that coronavirus was caused by 5G lines or purposely created by the Chinese. Meanwhile people are getting sick. In some cases, very sick. And they are our neighbors…

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