Precautions still a must despite low risk of infection during flights
Pre-flight testing and masks are key to safer air travel, say experts
While the risk of contracting Covid-19 during a flight has been reduced with measures such as air filtering in place, passengers should continue to take precautions while on board.
Infectious disease experts urged caution when flying, saying the risk of getting infected from somebody else on board cannot be completely eliminated.
Their comments come after industry group International Air Transport Association released findings this month stating that the risk of Covid-19 transmission on board planes appears to be "very low", and that current figures are "extremely reassuring".
The study by Dr David Freedman, a United States infectious disease specialist, and Dr Annelies Wilder-Smith of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that compulsory face coverings on flights were associated with lower transmission risks.
Experts agreed that pre-flight testing is key in reducing the chances of an infected person getting on board.
Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease expert at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said even if antigen testing - which delivers faster results but is less accurate than the polymerase chain reaction tests - is used to screen passengers, it can help to detect the bulk of those infected.
Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, says wearing face masks properly and maintaining good hygiene will greatly reduce the risk.
"The only concern will be when passengers remove their masks during mealtimes, but the risk is also reduced compared with normal meals at home or in restaurants, since passengers typically are facing forward and not each other."
Dr Leong says one potential source of risk is when passengers use plane toilets.
To manage this risk, passengers should clean surfaces inside the toilet before touching them and wash their hands thoroughly after.
Passengers should sit farther away from the aisle when possible, to reduce the risk of coming into direct contact with an infected person, Dr Leong added. - THE STRAITS TIMES
WHAT WHO SAYS
The World Health Organisation has said the lack of extensive documentation of in-flight transmission does not mean it does not happen, although it noted that the risk appears to be very low.