A new study has found that security checkpoints can pose a threat to international travellers by restricting their movement in the country, hindering their ability to leave their home countries.
The report from the University of Cambridge’s Transportation Research Institute (TRI) and the British Transport Police (BTP) found that, for a country to have a good risk-assessment, the risk of travel from its border with the rest of Europe to its main cities is about half as high as it is for its main ports of entry, including London, Frankfurt and Paris.
The BTP has been conducting the study for about three years, with a total of 9,921 people tested over the course of two years, and found that people travelling through security checkpoints are three times more likely to suffer a health-related problem, compared with people travelling to the rest-of-Europe, according to the report.
The study also found that there are significant differences between different types of security checkpoints, including those in Europe’s biggest cities, with the biggest differences seen in Germany and Italy, with checkpoints in these countries being four times more effective than in the rest.
In some cases, the research found that the more people who passed through the checkpoint, the greater the risk they faced of an infection.
In the United Kingdom, where the number of people travelling by land is about the same, people who pass through security at Heathrow Airport were almost three times as likely to be infected with the coronavirus than those who pass via the rest stops, the report found.
“Our results suggest that the most effective way to prevent a traveler from contracting coronaviral disease is to make it as far away from airports as possible,” Dr John D’Arcy, the study’s lead author, said.
“A large proportion of our study participants have already travelled through airports, so the fact that they have already been through checkpoints and are so highly likely to get infected should be taken into account.”
A large number of the people tested had been to the United States, while another large number had been in the Middle East.
Dr D’Armcy said that although he and his colleagues had not yet examined the actual risk-to-benefit ratio for the health effects of being on a plane, the researchers found that a “very high proportion of people who have travelled through security have had negative health outcomes”.
“The number of deaths is significant, but it’s the mortality that’s particularly concerning,” he said.
The researchers said the number and type of health problems experienced by the people who were tested, along with the frequency of testing, could be used to determine if the risk to the public was worth the benefit.
“We’re very interested in the numbers of people, not only in the number who have tested, but also how many of those people have been ill,” Dr D’Aurice said.
For the UK, there were 4,500 people tested between the first and second half of the year.
The BTP said there were 5,200 people tested in the third quarter of the current financial year.
Dr Svetlana Guseva, head of the health and safety for the BTP, said the study was one of the largest in its kind, but she stressed that the findings did not mean the UK was immune from the virus.
“There is a high risk for people to get ill from the coronivirus, but the UK is very far away,” she said.
In response to the study, Dr Guseeva said the UK had increased the number, type and duration of its airport screening.
The British Health Protection Agency said it was aware of the report and had increased its screening of travellers from overseas, which it was doing across its borders.