Coronavirus Spread in Flights
Image: Flickr/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH

Risk of Coronavirus Spread in Flights is Surprisingly Low

Since June of this year, countries around the world have eased restrictions related to coronavirus spread in flights on air travel. Although many still have certain policies regarding traveling, the easing has allowed many people to visit relatives, friends or simply go on a trip especially during the past few weeks of summer regardless of the ongoing coronavirus health crisis.

While some people are choosing to travel to reunite with families after months of staying apart due to lockdown and related restrictions, others are still hesitating due to the fear of contracting the coronavirus on their trips. Given the high number of people that have traveled in the past month, is the risk of catching the infection while flying really high?

According to research on the coronavirus, the infection can spread easily in tightly packed spaces where maintaining social distancing is difficult for most people. For instance, people are less likely to be able to stay six feet from each other in an indoor public place.

Read also: Coronavirus Death Rate in New York Similar to H1N1 Virus in 1918

Indoor spaces do not only make social distancing difficult but also have the highest risk of airborne transmission of coronavirus, which means that people may contract the virus without even coming in contact with an infected person.

In airplanes, practicing similar measures is also equally difficult. Though limitations on the number of people on a plane per flight can help, the risk of transmission remains. In fact, the chances of transmission are high in all public transport including trains, subway, and buses.

However, new research states that changes that have been brought with the passage of time due to the coronavirus have significantly affected the risk of coronavirus spread in flights. Although researchers have noted transmission of the virus it has surprisingly not been as high as it was assumed to be.

For example, a comprehensive study from scientists at the Goethe University in Germany, whose findings appear in the journal JAMA Network Open, showed that only two new cases of coronavirus were associated with seven infected people on a single flight, which shows the rate of transmission is relatively low.

Read the study here. 

Professor Sandra Ciesek, who is the Director of the Institute for Medical Virology at Goethe University and one of the leading investigators of the study said that transmission was indeed present in the observed flight. However, it was actually surprising that the spread was not as much as it was expected.

In addition to the low transmission rates, the researchers also discovered that the spread was lower than it was before, which was majorly associated with the changes introduced due to the coronavirus pandemic.

During the early days of the health crisis, wearing masks was not as common as it is now. Currently, most airlines require wearing masks on planes to minimize the risk of coronavirus spread in flights, which can decrease the risk of contracting the infection due to airborne transmission.

Therefore, if masks are made compulsory on all flights, it can make a significant difference and further lower the chances of the spread of coronavirus during air travel.