A Chinese passenger has a body temperature check at the Spring Airlines check-in counter before boarding a plane for Wuhan at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo. Photo: AFP/The Yomiuri Shimbun

Just like the pervasive mask culture across Asia – people now maintain a safe distance from anyone without one – there is also a fascination with body temperature checks that give people a sense of security amid the still unfolding pandemic.

One can expect to have a body temperature check multiple times before being allowed into public venues in China and other Asian countries hit by the contagion.

More often than not, a person’s temperature is measured “at gunpoint” by a paramedic or security staff holding a gun-shaped infrared forehead thermometer, and people will be turned away or even isolated onsite once a reading exceeds the normal range.

The advantages are obvious – they are non-contact, with instant results compared with mercury thermometers. That said, there have been many cases in which infected yet asymptomatic patients or those in incubation periods slip through the layers of temperature screenings.

Medical staff check the temperatures of passengers at a train station in Wuhan, the capital of the central Hubei province. Photo: AFP

Questions have been raised over the reliability of temperature checks and if additional measures are warranted to complement existing screening arrangements, especially at busy airports and other transportation nodes as well as at border checkpoints that are the frontiers to stave off Covid-19.

Two of the 100-plus German expats airlifted from Wuhan earlier this year tested positive upon arrival in Frankfurt, even though their thermal imaging was not flashing red and no alert was triggered as the pair walked past temperature detection cameras.

There have also been reports about overseas Chinese in the United States already with fevers taking pills to bring their body temperatures down before boarding flights as they flew home for free treatment.

Health experts say other factors may be at play, like sweating and changes in the heat being emanated from a person that can deceive temperature guns and cameras, or at least the accuracy of their readings. Yet the risk of cross-contamination and cross-infection means ear and oral thermometers are never recommended, even though they produce more accurate figures.

A member of staff works at a temperature screening post inside the main concourse of Wuhan’s Hankou train station. Photo: Xinhua

In some extreme cases, a patient’s incubation period can be as long as 24 days, way longer than the World Health Organization-recommended 14 days of quarantine, and that means some infected people may not be caught merely by temperature checks, according to Zhong Nanshan, China’s revered epidemiologist and pulmonologist who has been advising the government on curbing the plague.

Suggestions have been made about adding extra checks, including respiratory sample tests as well as a quarantine order on anyone entering a country or a city, to keep the disease at bay.

A cured patient gives a pennant of gratitude to his doctors. China now requests all patients to undergo an additional 14 days of quarantine before they can be discharged. Photo: Xinhua

In a separate development, virologists with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences claim a “breakthrough” is being made in vanquishing Covid-19 as infected lab monkeys in their experiments have recovered fully and become immune to the virus.

Xinhua reported that antibodies were found in the infected monkeys which recovered days later falling ill, without any trace or damage to their bodies. A paper detailing the animal experiments is pending peer review.

It was unclear, however, whether the team had fed the monkeys any medicine, like those being used to treat patients, or if the monkeys were immune to Covid-19 strain.

Some doctors treating patients in Wuhan have also noted a high level of antibodies in those recovered and discharged. Yet there were also cases of reinfection being reported nationwide, forcing the government to demand that all who are cured must be quarantined for another 14 days before they can be allowed to go.

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