Risk Of Getting COVID-19 On A Flight Is Very Low, Reveals German Study
COVID-19 pandemic has locked us in our homes. With the whole world shut down, most of us had to cancel our summer plans, while staying online for hours to get a refund on flight and hotel bookings.?
However, over time, easements started flowing in with air travel commencing again in India.?
But many people are still skeptical about getting on an aircraft with a deadly disease on the loose. Many feared poor social distancing on an aircraft as airlines were busy filling in the centre seats with passengers instead of just leaving it empty. However, a new study has revealed that flights are not as unsafe for COVID-19 as they are presumed to be.
Researchers in Germany, in order to understand the behaviour of the virus in an aircraft, looked at all passengers who boarded a commercial plane from Tel Aviv in Israel to Frankfurt in Germany on March 9th 2020 for a 4 hour 40 minutes journey. This was also a time when face masks weren’t compulsory on an airplane and people weren’t wearing it either.
24 potential COVID-19 spreaders on the airplane
The plane had a total of 102 passengers, out of which 24 belonged to a tourist group. This group was in contact with a hotel manager roughly seven days before the flight, who was confirmed COVID-19 positive. The tourists weren’t tested before boarding the plane. It is also important to note that none of the 24 wore face masks.
When the plane landed, the tourist group was tested for COVID-19. Moreover, researchers contacted the rest of the passengers on the aircraft four to five weeks later to see if they came in contact with other COVID-19 or had contracted COVID-19 or developed symptoms similar to the novel coronavirus.
The passengers who were seated within two rows of the index cases (7 people from the 24 tourists), as well as ones who were symptomatic, were also given antibody tests. The 7 people came out COVID-19 positive, four being symptomatic, two presymptomatic and one asymptomatic.?
Now, out of the 78 people who were exposed to the COVID-19 tourist group, 71 completed the necessary interviews. As per the researchers, 13 even gave serum samples 6 to 9 weeks after the journey, whereas one person tested positive through the conventional RT-PCR test four days after the flight.?
Seven more passengers showed symptoms synonymous with COVID-19 within 14 days of the flight. From the 13 passengers who gave serum samples, 6 were from symptomatic passengers and five were asymptomatic. Moreover, all of them tested negative for antibodies, except for one passenger.?
Only two people got COVID-19 on the flight
Researchers explained in the study, “SARS-CoV-2 transmission during the flight was not excluded for one symptomatic passenger with the previous contact with a patient with COVID-19 and 46 asymptomatic passengers who were not tested.”
They added, “We discovered two likely SARS-CoV-2 transmissions on this flight, with seven index cases. These transmissions may have also occurred before or after the flight. The risk of transmission of droplet-mediated infections on an aircraft depends on proximity to an index case and on other factors, such as the movement of passengers and crew, fomites, and contact among passengers in the departure gate. In our study, both passengers with likely onboard transmission were seated within two rows of an index case.”
How is the risk lower?
Researchers also claim that due to the way the air flows in the aircraft, chances are they help reduce the transmission rate, and masks could go a long way in preventing the contraction. “The airflow in the cabin from the ceiling to the floor and from the front to the rear may have been associated with a reduced transmission rate,” they said. “It could be speculated that the rate may have been reduced further had the passengers worn masks.”
Researchers do state that these tests aren’t conclusive and more testing is needed to understand the airborne transmission inside the aircraft cabin.?