Universal wearing of face masks during the complete duration of flying along with the onboard ventilation system on aircrafts which continuously circulate and refresh the air supply are some of the key factors that assists in reducing the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in airplanes, notes a report published by Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.
The report funded by Avian Public Health Initiative further emphasises that if these various measures are adopted by the aviation ministry, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission while flying will be way lesser when compared to eating out or venturing out for grocery shopping. Researchers also clarified that the funding by the aviation industry had no effect on the findings of the study.
Highlighting the use of face masks by both the crew and the passengers, the report also recommends following other precautionary measures under the "gate-to-gate" approach. Passengers are requested to follow distancing norms while boarding and deplaning. Along with maintaining the onboard ventilation that filters out more than 99 per cent of the COVID-19 causing particles, airlines are also expected to frequently disinfect all aircraft surfaces to avoid surface contamination and transmission.
Passengers are also expected to be more responsible by carrying attestations which suggest that they are COVID-19 negative and are not exhibiting any symptoms to further mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in airlines. These forms regain importance at a time when Hong Kong has halted flights travelling from India for the fourth time after another passenger tested positive after landing in the country.
The project was formulated with an intention to understand the intersection of the available scientific knowledge on COVID-19 transmission and its adoption to reduce the COVID-19 risk in the aviation industry. "Since implementing these measures in the spring of 2020, and with millions of passenger hours flown, there has been little evidence to date of onboard disease transmission," reads the report.
While the strategies mentioned in "Gate-to-Gate " report comprise of Phase One activities within commercial airplanes, another Phase Two report is in the offing. The "curb-to-curb report intends to devise strategies for the smooth functioning of airport operations.
Interventions To Reduce The Spread Of COVID-19 In Aircrafts
Referencing to the modelling of airplane ventilation systems, the researchers divide the necessary actions into airline actions and traveler actions.
1. Ventilation: The existing ventilation systems filter out COVID-19 particles that are operational while the flight is cruising should also be allowed to function on ground, says the report. The researchers recommend this change as during embarking as well as disembarking, while accessing their luggage in the overhead counters, passengers tend to be in closer proximity of each other.
The downward flow of the ventilated air curbs the virus from spreading. Dr. Giridhar Babu had highlighted to BOOM in June that travelling via airplanes would be the safest due to the air conditioning in airplanes along with wearing masks and washing hands.
2. Disinfection: "Airlines have specifically added additional procedures to prioritise the disinfection of high-touch surfaces between flights, and deeper cleaning and disinfection overnight or when there is enough time between flights," reads the report while adding that since the onset of COVID-19, airlines have increased the frequency and intensity of the ir disinfection protocols.
3. Physical Distancing: The report acknowledges that maintaining physical distancing during boarding and disembarking is difficult as passengers are always moving around. To intensify physical distancing measures, the scientists recommend bringing about a change in the process. Passengers should be allowed to board and disembark through a row-by-row sequence observed by the inflight attendant.
1. The US has brought about a policy change that allows airlines to include any passenger in the no-fly list if they do not comply with the official COVID-19 precautionary guidelines.
2. Face Masks: Both the crew and passengers are expected to wear a face mask during the complete journey. The frequency of removing masks for eating and drinking should also be kept to a minimum.
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