S6 of Airport Security: Peru & Brazil starts on National Geographic (181) on Thursday, 7 May. And it is business as usual for the security staff of Latin America's biggest airports – Lima, Peru's Jorge Chavez and Brazil's Sao Paulo-Guarulhos – who are on high alert for cocaine smugglers, human trafficking, animal smuggling and illegal immigrants.

But at the time of filming and while their focus was on busting crime, enforcing border laws and saving lives, one silent threat was sneaking across borders all around the globe using a speed pass: COVID-19. Airline travel allowed it to spread to over 77 countries around the world in just one month.

With most of the planet now still grounded and airports in lockdown to halt the spread of the virus, we’ll be looking at this season through somewhat different eyes. In May 2020, border security is aiming to stop passengers from smuggling sickness. But it’s a team effort, with everyone from ground staff to those most essential of essential workers – the new frontline of border security – airports’ cleaners and medical staff.


The new war

“To deal with preventive measures, airport staff are being redirected to handle things from temperature screenings and collecting health declarations, to adjusting the airport infrastructure, reserving specific parking gates for flights coming from severely impacted countries, and creating triage areas, says Stefano Baronci, Director General, Airports Council International (ACI) Asia-Pacific. “Airports, in co-operation with respective health ministries, are implementing preventive measures throughout terminals to deal with the outbreak – such as temperature checks, health screenings, installing extra hand-sanitising stations, stepping up scheduled cleaning and enhanced sanitisation efforts.”


Security slip up

And when border control gets things wrong, the consequences are deadly. Border officials at Sydney Airport in Australia were criticised at the start of the outbreak for herding arriving passengers into small spaces and cramped queues, while at Sydney Harbour in March, more than 2,000 cruise passengers were allowed to disembark from the ship Ruby Princess and enter the country without testing or quarantine. It’s estimated that 10% of Australia’s COVID-19 infections, and 15 deaths, can be traced back to that one decision. At the time, MUA (Maritime Union Of Australia) assistant secretary Paul Garrett pointed out that the handling of the ship exposed a “gaping hole in Australia’s biosecurity network”.

A whole new world

Most countries around the world have now imposed travel bans. According to the United Nations specialised agency for tourism, in April 2020, 100% of tourist destinations had travel restrictions in place. But there are still people up in the air. At this point these are mostly aid workers, military, essential infrastructure maintenance workers and citizens who were trapped by travel bans and are now being repatriated. Most countries are also placing these arriving travellers in a mandatory 14-day quarantine in government facilities or government approved facilities, while departing passengers need to present a recent medical certificate.

And when lockdown conditions lift, we could be looking at travel rather differently, with the kind of universal passenger medical screening that was becoming widespread in late March just before the near-total shutdown started, becoming yet another step in the security process. Mask and gloves on, shoes off, medical certificate ready and prepare for the thermal scan. And passengers who do fly can probably expect slower gate turnaround times as planes get thoroughly disinfected between flights.

Airport Security: Peru & Brazil S6 starts on Thursday, 17 May on National Geographic (181) at 19:00

And don’t miss...


Border Security S15

Australia’s border security is some of the strictest in the world (usually). This show takes viewers to the front line to watch how the Immigration, Customs and Quarantine departments work hand-in-hand to keep the country safe. Find out about a drug nicknamed Charlie Sheen, evidence of witchcraft, how imposters were unmasked, and what got one sniffer dog excited about a female passenger’s underwear (the season was filmed in 2015).

Starts on Monday, 11 May, new episodes weekdays on CBS Reality (132) at 14:55 & 15:20


And while you’re there…

There are quite a few border security shows repeating, so keep an eye out for:

  • Border Patrol S10 on Mondays on CBS Reality (132) at 17:25
  • Border Interceptors S1 on Tuesdays on CBS Reality (132) at 17:25
  • And Airport Security Compilations on National Geographic (181) on
    Mondays at 04:20, 09:50 and 15:40;
    Tuesdays at 04:17, 10:07 and 15:53;
    Wednesdays at 04:20, 10:00 and 15:40;
    Thursdays at 04:20, 09:45 and 13:35;
    Fridays at 04:15, 10:00 and 15:45; and
    Saturdays at 04:20, 09:50 and 15:40.

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