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Thermal cameras for Coronavirus screening – a note of caution

Thermal cameras for coronavirus screeningWe have noticed some recent reports in mainstream media, including this one from the BBC, regarding the use of thermal imaging cameras for the purpose of detecting people with fever. This in the light of the possible measures organisations are investigating in preparation for controlling coronavirus spread when businesses reopen and lockdowns ease. Airports, hospitals, train stations and restaurants have been quoted as the type of environments where thermal cameras may be of use.

We are concerned that media reporting is not detailed enough and may create an impression that thermal cameras are an effective tool to fight the spread of coronavirus. They are not. At least, not in their own right.

In simple terms, thermal imaging technology as it stands is only suitable for measuring skin surface temperature, not an individual’s core temperature. It therefore can only be used to scan for people that are relatively hot, which could be for all kind of reasons including those that may have a fever. People with a raised skin temperature can be identified as a potential risk. They could then be separated for further medical testing and proper diagnosis. Therefore, thermal cameras can only ever be a tool as part of much wider set of control measures and procedures put in place.

Our concern

Our concern is that an impression may be created that thermal camera technology is an effective, key tool for scanning crowds of people for coronavirus. This may result in a danger that some organisations may use it just like that, a key tool, or worse, a standalone tool, thinking they are doing the right thing. This would be false security both for organisations utilising this technology and for people passing through their screening.

Therefore, we’d like to emphasise that thermal cameras can only be a small part of a potential solution. It is not ‘the’ solution, and thermal cameras can and should only be used as part of a wider set of control measures.

Note, we have not touched on the fact that many or most coronavirus carriers don’t have a fever, which would further question the use and effectiveness of thermal cameras to fight the spread of the virus. People who have the virus may not exhibit symptoms and the virus may still be transmissible by them. Thermal cameras are of no help in these cases.

A final note is that we have been receiving enquiries for thermal cameras for use as described above and that we have issued the same advice to those customers.

Published on April 30th, 2020 by Frank Crouwel

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