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Experts skeptical about air travel study findings

Published Oct 25, 2020


CAPE TOWN - While experts have expressed skepticism after a study funded by the United Airlines and the U.S. Department, found that the risk of contracting coronavirus aboard an airplane is minimal.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said despite studies showing only a small number of cases, the risk of Covid-19 spreading on flights should not be ruled out.


According to WHO there are at least two known case reports that described in-flight transmission, on flights from London to Hanoi, and Singapore to China.

“Sick passengers and people with confirmed exposure to Covid-19 should not be allowed to travel. In-flight transmission is possible but the risk appears to be very low, given the volume of travellers and the small number of case reports,”

“The fact that transmission is not widely documented in the published literature does not, however, mean it does not happen,” the WHO said in a statement to Reuters.

Earlier this month, the Global airlines body International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that only 44 potential cases of flight-related transmission had been identified among 1.2 billion travellers this year, or one in every 27 million passengers.

Experts agree that the filtration systems of airplanes combined with the wearing of masks might lower the risk of contracting Covid-19. But just how low your chances are that is not known.

Linsey Marr, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech who studies aerosols said: “I think we should have a healthy degree of skepticism, since it was funded by the industry which is trying to get us to fly,”

“But at the same time, I think the methods they used are sound, and the people who did it are careful researchers. The results seem reasonable to me; they are a best-case scenario.”

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