Two reports have claimed the possibility that coronavirus can spread on small-spaced airline flights, suggesting that small distancing will not fully protect people.
A young woman and her sister had traveled across Europe just as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking off there, visiting Milan and Paris before heading to London.
When the woman left London on March 1, she had a sore throat and cough as she boarded a flight home to Vietnam. By the time she got off the flight in Hanoi 10 hours later, 15 other people who had been on the plane with her were infected, researchers reported.
In another incident, passengers on a flight from Boston to Hong Kong appear to have infected two flight attendants. Both cases involved long flights early in the pandemic, before airlines began requiring face masks.
A team from Vietnam tracked down a cluster of cases linked to the flight that arrived in Hanoi from London on March 2.
“The most likely route of transmission during the flight is aerosol or droplet transmission from case 1, particularly for persons seated in business class,” researchers wrote.
“We conclude that the risk for on-board transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during long flights is real and has the potential to cause COVID-19 clusters of substantial size, even in business class—like settings with spacious seating arrangements well beyond the established distance used to define close contact on airplanes.”
“As long as COVID-19 presents a global pandemic threat in the absence of a good point-of-care test, better on-board infection prevention measures and arrival screening procedures are needed to make flying safe.”