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Planning for a trip? In-flight spread of coronavirus possible during long-haul travel, says study

In-flight spread of coronavirus high during long-haul travel: Study

In the study, the scientists assessed information about the journeys of the passengers, their disease progression, and virus genomic data.

Written by Satata Karmakar |Updated : January 27, 2021 8:34 AM IST

Are you planning for a trip after the relaxation of the pandemic restrictions? You need to be cautious. A recent study has revealed that despite diagnostic testing of passengers before the departure of international flights, instances of in-flight transmission of the novel coronavirus are likely.

According to the reports, the research which was published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, assessed 86 passengers who travelled on a flight from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that arrived in New Zealand on September 29, and found that seven were positive for the infection.

Potential Sources Of Coronavirus Infection Of These Travellers

In the study, the scientists, including those from the University of Otago in New Zealand, assessed information about the journeys of the passengers, their disease progression, and virus genomic data to determine the potential source of infection of these travellers.

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Speaking to the media, the researchers said that the passengers had begun their journeys from five different countries before a layover in Dubai, and pre-departure test results were negative for five of the travellers.

Mask Use Was Not Compulsory!

They said during the flight, and before departure in Dubai airport, mask use was not mandatory -- with five passengers self-reporting that they used masks and gloves while on the airplane, and two reported that they did not.

Social Distancing Was Not Maintained!

The researchers also noted that the seven passengers had been seated within four rows of each other during the nearly 18-hour flight from Dubai to Auckland.

"None of the passengers reported having been in close contact at the Dubai airport," the scientists were quoted as saying.

Passengers Who Tested Positive For Coronavirus Have Been Isolated

Following the coronavirus test reports, all 86 passengers on the flight underwent mandatory managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) for 14 days and diagnostic testing for the coronavirus on day three, and again on day 12 if the previous test result was negative, the study noted.

The scientists also determined the lineage of the viral genomes obtained from the seven passengers.

Coronavirus Positive Travellers Were Asymptomatic

The researchers confirmed that one of the passengers, who was the first among the seven to experience symptoms on October 1 was "consistent with having been infectious while on the flight", and the second person to experience symptoms was this person's travel companion.

They said the third individual to test positive was asymptomatic, while symptom onset and positive test result dates for three other passengers were "consistent with the in-flight transmission."

Based on the date of symptom onset, the researchers believe one of the seven passengers may have been infected during their stay with an infected passenger at the MIQ facility, where they resided in the same room.

In-Flight Transmission Of Coronavirus

"Evidence of in-flight transmission on a flight from the United Arab Emirates to New Zealand is strongly supported by the epidemiologic data, in-flight seating plan, symptom onset dates, and genomic data for this group of travellers who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2," the scientists were quoted as saying.

The researchers believe the findings present a likely scenario of SARS-CoV-2 transmission events during a long-haul flight.

"These transmission events occurred despite reported in-flight use of masks and gloves," they noted.

However, There Are Limitations

Citing the limitations of the study, the scientists said the data does not definitively exclude an alternative exposure event, "such as virus transmission at the Dubai airport before boarding."

"However, the close proximity of the relevant passengers on board suggests that in-flight transmission is plausible," they wrote in the study.

The study also noted that the environmental control system (ECS) of the flight, which provides air supply, thermal control, and cabin pressurisation for the crew and passengers was inoperative for nearly 30 minutes during its two-hour refuelling stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Even with pre-departure testing, social distancing, and personal protective equipment used in-flight, the scientists believe the findings underscore the importance of considering all international air travellers as being potentially infected with the coronavirus.

If You Are Planning For A Trip, Here Are Some Useful Tips

The first tip will be to stay at home at the moment unless it is extremely important. The vaccines are here but the virus can still infect you and you will have to undergo the tests, isolation and vaccinations. Isn't it's better to just avoid travelling as much as you can at the moment? However, if you still feel the need for travelling then keep reading

1. Keep Your Mask On!

We get it, you are going on a trip and you want to chill. But, not at the cost of your life right? The virus has not gone anywhere, so keep wearing the mask and stay protected.

2. Carry Your Own Hand Sanitiser

As discussed above, keep following the pandemic rules to stay protected. Washing your hands with soap or an alcohol-infused sanitiser is recommended when you are outside.

3. Maintain Social Distancing

Keep your sense of social distancing on while you are travelling. You can easily get catch the coronavirus from an infected person if you are in close proximity.

4. Quarantine After Your Trip

Make sure to keep a close check on your body's symptoms. The warning signs of coronavirus are loss of smell and taste, cough, high fever, body ache and fatigue.

Stay alert, stay safe!

(With inputs from the Agencies)

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