MUMBAI: The risk of getting infected by coronavirus is lower on board an aircraft than say during grocery shopping or eating out, according to a study published by Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health.
There are caveats to this though. Passengers should wear face masks, aircraft air conditioning/filtration systems should function well, cabin surfaces should be disinfected and appropriate ventilation should be maintained from gate to gate at the departure and arrival airports.
The big takeaway was the importance of layered risk mitigation strategies. The recently released report has presented scientific evidence on the effectiveness of various non-pharmaceutical interventions—like wearing face masks—to control the transmission of the virus on board aircraft. The strategies included consistent operation of ventilation systems, disinfection of surfaces, consistent wearing of face masks, and procedures during boarding and deplaning to maximise social distancing among passengers and crew members. The study did not look at the effectiveness of any single strategy and proposed using layered risk mitigation strategies.
When the aircraft cabin conditioning system is fully operating, the mask-wearing passenger in the nearest seat to a masked infectious person will have a substantially reduced exposure, the study said. “The estimated dose inhaled by an adjacent passenger over a few hours of exposure is likely to be less than the amount necessary to cause a secondary infection,” it found.
In fact, aircraft ventilation offers enhanced protection for diluting and removing airborne contagions in comparison to other indoor spaces with conventional mechanical ventilation and is substantially better than residential situations, the study said. “This level of ventilation effectively counters the proximity travellers will be subjected to during flights. The level of ventilation provided aboard aircraft will substantially reduce the opportunity for person-to-person transmission of infectious particles, when coupled with consistent compliance with mask-wearing policies.”
“Mask compliance reduces the dispersion of larger droplets that may deposit on surfaces, while general airline cleaning practices and passengers sanitising hard surfaces around their seats lowers the probability of contacting SARS-CoV-2 infected surfaces, which is already low to begin with,” said the report. “Requiring passengers to attest to the absence of Covid-19 symptomatology, mandating they comply with all the airline’s Covid-related procedures, including physical distancing during boarding and deplaning. provides some degree of protection (it is yet to be determined).”
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