Coronavirus spread: How to avoid coronavirus on flights

The city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated, is a transport hub known as the ‘thoroughfare of China’. With millions of people coming and going via the city, authorities had little choice but to lock Wuhan down.

How to avoid coronavirus on flights

Medical experts have so far recommended frequent hand-washing as the most effective way of preventing the spread of the virus.

The wearing of face masks has also been advised, but with billions of people in China and the necessity to swap masks up to four times a day, there is a high demand for the protective gear.

That increased demand could soon lead to a shortage of face masks but even so, their efficiency has been debated.


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David Powell is a physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association.

He told Bloomberg that the coronavirus can’t survive for long on seats and armrests.

The greater risk of infection comes from physical contact between persons.

He adds that masks and gloves help spread bugs rather than stopping them.

Dr Powell said: “Viruses and other microbes like to live on living surfaces like us.

“Just shaking hands with somebody will be a greater risk by far than some dry surface that has no biological material on it.

“The survival of viruses on surfaces isn’t great, so it’s believed that normal cleaning, and then the extra cleaning in the event that someone was discovered to be contagious, is the appropriate procedure.”

He added: “The hands are the way that these viruses most efficiently spread.

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“Top of the list is frequent hand washing, hand sanitizing, or both.

“Avoid touching your face. If you cough or sneeze, it’s important to cover your face with a sleeve.

“Better yet, a tissue to be disposed of carefully, and then sanitizing the hands afterward.

“Washing your hands and drying them is the best procedure. When that’s not easy to do, alcohol-based sanitizer is a good second-best.”

The medical adviser warns that wearing masks and gloves could help spread coronavirus on a flight more efficiently than anything else.

Dr Powell argues that gloves and masks can in fact an ideal environment for microbes to thrive.

He said: “There’s very limited evidence of benefit, if any, in a casual situation.

“Masks are useful for those who are unwell to protect other people from them.

“But wearing a mask all the time will be ineffective. It will allow viruses to be transmitted around it, through it and worse still, if it becomes moist it will encourage the growth of viruses and bacteria.

“Gloves are probably even worse, because people put on gloves and then touch everything they would have touched with their hands.

“So it just becomes another way of transferring micro-organisms.

“And inside the gloves, your hands get hot and sweaty, which is a really good environment for microbes to grow.”

So how likely is it for passengers to be infected while travelling on an aircraft?

According to Dr Powell the risk is low because of the air inside the plane.

He said: “The risk of catching a serious viral infection on an aircraft is low.

“The air supply to a modern airliner is very different from a movie theater or an office building.

“The air is a combination of fresh air and recirculated air, about half each.

“The recirculated air goes through filters of the exact same type that we use in surgical operating theatres.

“That supplied air is guaranteed to be 99.97 per cent or better free of viruses and other particles.

“So the risk, if there is one, does not come from the supplied air. It comes from other people.”


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The coronavirus spreads quicker through human to human contact.

The World Health Organisation defines contact with an infected person as being seated within two rows of one another on a plane.

But people don’t just sit during flights, particularly ones lasting longer than a few hours.

They visit the bathroom, stretch their legs, and grab items from the overhead bins.

A study by a group of public health researchers found that passengers in window seats came into less contact than those sat in the middle or aisle seats.

Howard Weiss, a professor of biology and mathematics at Penn State University, lead the FlyHealthy Research Team study.

He told National Geographic: “If you’re seated in an aisle seat, certainly there will be quite a few people moving past you, but they’ll be moving quickly.

“In aggregate, what we show is there’s quite a low probability of transmission to any particular passenger.”

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