Covid-19 transmission in plane 'unlikely', say Malaysian airlines experts


  • Malaysia
  • Tuesday, 02 Jun 2020

As part of heightened safety measures to curb Covid-19, the interior of aircraft is regularly cleaned and disinfected. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

In-flight transmission of Covid-19 when you are in the cabin of an aircraft is unlikely, according to aviation experts. This, however, is assuming that all necessary health and safety precautions are put in place.

Aviation medical expert Datuk Dr Mohammad Razin Kamarulzaman said being in an enclosed space during the coronavirus crisis might sound absurd, but there is data to suggest that the rate of in-flight transmission is low.

“There’s a paradox, in terms of, you know, flying in a closed tube for certain hours. But the transmission rate is low, ” he said during a special media interview.

Dr Mohammad Razin, who is also the corporate safety oversight head for Malaysia Airlines, cited a study published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently.

From the survey of 18 airlines (14% global traffic), only seven potential Covid-19 positive cases were recorded.

“It could be most likely because passengers and crew look after themselves through travel advisories and standard operating procedures (SOP) imposed by the airlines that only allow fit and healthy passengers to fly, ” Dr Mohammad Razin said.

Most airlines would advise unwell passengers to not travel.Most airlines would advise unwell passengers to not travel.

He added that the seating arrangement in a plane could be a contributing factor as well.

“Everybody faces forward (in the cabin). So there is no face-to-face or prolonged face-to-face contact between one individual and another, ” he said.

ALSO READ: Will 'sanitised travel' keep you safe while travelling amid Covid-19?

Another point to note is the air circulation in the cabin of a plane. Dr Mohammad Razin explained that there is a laminar airflow inside the cabin.

Laminar airflow is defined as air moving at the same speed and in the same direction, with no or minimal cross-over of air streams.

The air flow inside a cabin, according to the doctor, is further purified by High Efficiency Particulate Arresters (HEPA) aircraft filtration system.

“The airflow inside the cabin goes through HEPA filters and is recirculated with fresh air taken outside for every two- minute cycle, ” he said.

Another point to note is the air circulation in the cabin of a plane.Another point to note is the air circulation in the cabin of a plane.

That being said, passengers need to be vigilant and responsible too.

“Most airlines would advise passengers in advance that if you are unwell, please do not travel, ” he said, adding that wearing face masks and observing social distancing measures are important.

As of now, Malaysia Airlines, like most other airlines, have put in place measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

These include temperature checks, regular cabin disinfection and cleaning, using disposable cutlery and the availability of medical communicable kits (or modified contactless CPR), as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) on board.

Regular cabin disinfection and cleaning is now part of most airlines' SOPs.Regular cabin disinfection and cleaning is now part of most airlines' SOPs.

Meanwhile, AirAsia Malaysia chief executive officer Riad Asmat supported the call for passengers to be more responsible in helping to curb the coronavirus.

“To ensure that you are eligible to travel, be it international or domestic, you may check the updated guideline on our support page at support.airasia.com before booking your flight,” he said.

ALSO READ: What will 'sanitised travel' look like for Malaysians after the pandemic?

Riad also reminded travellers to arrive earlier at the airport – preferably three hours before departure – to go through the necessary safety processes.

“Besides following our important notices, we kindly ask that you observe the universally recommended protective precautionary measures, including practising high personal hygiene, wearing a mask and sanitising your hands regularly, ” he said.

Riad also reiterated Dr Mohamad Razin’s stand that air travel is safe amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with the safety measures that have been put in place by airlines.

“Air travel is one of the safest modes of travel, especially with the deep cleaning, sanitising and disinfection that our aircraft and its cabin go through daily, ” he said.

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