British Airways cabin crew fear they are more at risk of catching coronavirus because planes were are not deep-cleaned after every flight.
In fact, jets are only deep-cleaned monthly with some just getting a ‘quick wipe’ before jetting off again.
Yesterday, two baggage handlers at Terminal 5 of London’s Heathrow Airport tested positive for the killer infection raising fears that the virus – that has infected 164 people in Britain and killed two – could have passed onto passengers’ luggage, where it could survive for up to three days.
A BA crew member, who asked not to be named, said: ‘They’re given a basic clean by cleaners who use the same cloths to wipe down galleys and surfaces.
‘A plane comes from Hong Kong, it gets a quick wipe and then it goes straight to New York.
‘Cabin crew get a small bottle of hand sanitizer. If someone was to show symptoms there are masks, but you’re in a confined space at 40,000ft, so it won’t do much good.
‘Everybody has raised concerns. But you can’t do anything about it. You can’t refuse to do any flights.’
A BA spokesman said every aircraft was given a ‘regular clean’ after every short-haul flight and a thorough one each evening.
Long-haul flights get a thorough clean after every flight, including seats, seat pockets, tray tables, galleys, toilets, floors, the aircraft interior and surfaces generally.
Monthly deep-cleans of all aircraft return them to a ‘like new’ standard, and involve everything from ceilings to air vents.
Heathrow has introduced a strict hygiene regime since the outbreak of coronavirus in January and staff have been cleaning baggage carousels regularly.
A spokesman said baggage handlers working for all airlines had been given gloves, masks and hand sanitizers, as well as lessons in good hand hygiene.
PHE staff at the airport are also advising staff on how to prevent infection and monitoring inbound passengers for signs of symptoms.
Heathrow is still accepting arrivals from Milan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Travellers who return from these areas must self-quarantine if they develop symptoms.
On Thursday evening a woman in her 70s became the first person in the UK to die after being diagnosed with coronavirus while at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.
The woman – who had ‘underlying health conditions’ – tested positive for the killer infection on Wednesday before succumbing to the illness the following day.
And on Friday a grandfather in his early 80s died at Milton Keynes Hospital after he was admitted on March 3 with suspected pneumonia having recently returned from a cruise where he had visited several countries.
His family fear he could have passed on the infection after he was left ‘coughing excessively’ on a ward for six hours as patients warned hospital workers to check him for the deadly virus.
After health officials confirmed two British Airways baggage handlers were infected, one anxious traveller asked: ‘How many passengers have been infected?’
Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world and tens of thousands of travellers pass through the airport every day.
Public Health England said neither patient worked while showing any symptoms but it is not clear if they had handled luggage before becoming ill. Scientists fear patients who don’t have a cough or fever – tell-tale signs of the infection – can still be contagious but it has not yet been definitively proven.
It comes as elderly people are to be told to stay at home under new government guidelines to tackle the outbreak of the virus as health officials urge Britons to check in on their relatives.
The elderly should be prepared for ‘social distancing’ policies, which are to be announcement by ministers next week, government sources said.
Advice will include the elderly staying at home and avoiding crowded areas which the Department of Health warned could leave people ‘cut off’.
Guidelines also state that households should decide how their food will be delivered in case they have to self-isolate.
The UK’s chief scientific adviser confirmed that the virus is spreading uncontrollably between people inside Britain. Sir Patrick Vallance admitted: ‘This is the start of an outbreak clearly… we can expect more cases.’
Anxious Britons have resorted to wearing gas masks and blankets on public transport in desperate attempts to protect themselves as the coronavirus continues its rampant spread across the UK, while supermarkets up and down the country have again been left bare amid rushes to stockpile household goods such as hand soap, nappies and dried foods like pasta and rice.
Facebook has closed its London offices for the weekend because an employee from Singapore was diagnosed with the coronavirus after visiting the English headquarters between February 24 and 26.
Furious doctors have warned the lack of spare beds in the NHS ‘will end in death’ and an ex-government worker claimed a coronavirus crisis in the UK ‘would be quite useful’ in killing off NHS bed blockers.
And Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged an extra £46million to rush through a coronavirus vaccine, after the scientific adviser, Sir Patrick, said a jab will not be ready during this outbreak – researchers hope one could be ready to use by the end of the year.
Mr Johnson even said it looks like the UK will face a ‘substantial period of disruption’ from the new coronavirus outbreak and the government plans to put aid for affected businesses in the national budget.