Blog updated – we chose to fly last week and are now in Canada having an amazing time!
There is a lot of attention to the coronavirus outbreak in the media at the moment, and people are concern about flying. An increasing number of airlines have banned flights to and from China, in a bid to stop the spread of the current strain of the coronavirus – given the name COVID-19. As we have several flights coming up, albeit not to China, we did a bit of research to check if we should change our travel plans or not. We have summarised what we found and outlined what we’re doing in this situation.
The current strain of the coronavirus and flying might have you a bit worried, so hopefully our perspective might help with your planning.
The World Health Organization has declared the current coronavirus outbreak as a global health emergency, which is not due to what’s happening in China but more of a measure to protect countries with weaker healthcare systems. Countries with weaker healthcare systems will struggle to cope with large influx of infected patients needing medical attention. Currently, it looks like the virus spreads through close contact. As a precautionary measure to stop it spreading and official government advice, British Airways, Virgin, Delta, American Airlines, Air New Zealand, Qantas, and many others have cancelled or scaled back flights to China. At least 50 airlines have restricted flights to China.
Most airlines have now also stopped flights to and from Hong Kong. The virus is catching on, with more cases appearing outside of China. Unless all flights are stopped globally, there’s not really any way of containing the virus. We’ll still travel but we will approach it with due diligence and ensure we practice hygienic practices. The other option is to stay at home and avoid everyone, which is not how we want to live our lives!
How deadly is the virus?
It’s important to look at the evidence available. Based on the current evidence and the relatively small data sample, we can’t make any definite conclusions. Figures show that 3% (the chart below is now out of date!) of infected who contracted the latest strain of the coronavirus have died. For comparison, the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 killed 17% of people who contracted the disease. The Bird Flu outbreak in 2013, had a high mortality rate, killing nearly 40% or people with the disease. The SARS outbreak in 2002, killed 9.6% of individuals with the virus. The figure for the coronavirus is not conclusive as the number of cases are still growing, but these are tracked closely by officials and only time will tell what happens next. Mortality data early in an epidemic will invariably be unreliable. Comparisons should also be done with a pinch of salt… it’s there to help you contextualise how bad things may get. You can’t compare apples to pears!
How does the virus spread?
Researchers still don’t know how the current strain of the coronavirus spreads but it’s likely to be through airborne droplets (sneezing or coughing) and touching infected surfaces. Similar to how the common cold or influenza spreads. On average, we touch our face more than three times an hour. Your hands might, therefore, carry the virus if you’ve touched infected surfaces. Hence why hand-washing is an effective way of reducing your risk of infections. This is also why close contact with infected individuals increases the risk.
How to prevent it?
I’m sure you’ve read a numbers of different articles online about how you can prevent yourself from getting it. The WHO recommends the following:
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water – its recommended that the duration is aligned to how long it takes for to sing happy birthday
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue and make sure you throw it into a bin (catch it, kill it, bin it)
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has a cough or fever
- Don’t touch your face if you haven’t washed your hands (this is ours!)
- Try not to touch any livestock
- Stop eating uncooked meats or eggs
What happens on a plane?
A common myth about air travel is that when one person is sick on a plane, everyone will get sick because you’re breathing the same air. This is simply not true. The air quality control on commercial flights prevents this from happening by having advanced filtration systems. The air on planes usually consists of approximately 50% of outside air and 50% of filtered, recirculated air. Modern filtration system reduces the risk of potential health hazards including contaminants of bacteria, fungi, viruses, dust fibres, and ozone. So breathing the air on a plane while flying is unlikely to spread coronaviruses.
The risk on planes
The risk comes from touching or coming into close contact with infected individuals. As we still don’t know how the current strain of the coronavirus spreads it’s hard to conclude what will happens when flying. However, researchers have looked at how influenza (flu) spreads on a single aisle airplanes and found that passengers sitting in window seats have the lowest likelihood of coming into contact with an infected person. The virus is most likely to be transmitted to passengers within one row of the infected individual. According to the WHO’s, people outside a two-seat range usually have a low probability of getting infected.
People are unlikely to stay seated throughout the flight, and will make trips to the washrooms, so having healthy habits might help. The Center of Disease Prevention and Control (CDC)’s guidance promotes healthy habits when you’re on an airplane. Wash your hands with soap and/or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after touching any surfaces. There’s evidence of coronaviruses lasting longer on surfaces than other viruses, around three to 12 hours, so washing your hands matters. Wiping down surfaces will also help prevent the spread.
What to do on a flight?
So the advice is simple; wash your hands, avoid touching your face and try not to come into contact with coughing passengers. We will bring sanitising wipes with us on our next flight. Next week, we will be on British Airways’ First Class in the 747, and the cleanliness on British Airways’ cabins have always been an issue for us as it’s frequently dirty. So we’ll be doing a Noami Campbell and wiping our seats down with sanitising wipes when we get to our seats!
It’s outside of our control who we sit next to on a plane. We hope that airlines and airports are vigilant with monitoring people that might be ill or have travelled to China recently. Update: The UK government has introduced advanced monitoring at airports with direct flights from China.
Face masks will help prevent the spread, if you’re infected (as you’ll cough/sneeze into the masks). Many people in Asia wear these to prevent spreading the disease if they have a cold. There’s no evidence to suggest it can prevent you from getting it by wearing a standard surgical mask. In fact, you might make it worse as people tend to adjust their masks regularly. It increases the number of times you touch your face. Special masks, N95, are recommended for healthcare professionals, not for the general public. They are also not designed to be worn for a prolong period of time and you need to know how to put these on properly.
What to do if you have booked flights to China?
Most airlines are offering a refund or allowing you to change the date of your travel. As the situation is still evolving, it’s hard to be certain, but if it were us, we would cancel our flight and ask for a refund rather than reorganising. We would then, purchase a new ticket at a later date once more is known. British Airways has suspended flights until the 29 February, we don’t know if it will continue past this date. Only time will tell. However, we suspect that once the flight restrictions are lifted, demand for flights to China will likely be low and as a result the price will fall.
For the latest travel to China, be sure to check your official government websites for advice.
The UK Chief Medical Officers are advising anyone who has travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 daysUK Chief Medical Officers
BG1’s take on flying and coronavirus
We recommend to take official advice and not to travel to China. The situation is still evolving, so more evidence is needed to understand how the disease spreads and how quickly it’s spreading. What’s certain is that there is a lot of media attention and countless social media posts about this, so sometimes it’s hard to distil the truth from the myth.
Our advice is to be discerning with what you read online. Take recommendations from official government sources or organisations like the WHO, the CDC in the US or Public Health England in the UK.
Flying and coronavirus? Will we still fly? Yes we would. We flew from London to Vancouver, Canada last week and don’t intend to change our travel plans unless the government says so. We will of course remain vigilant; do things that promote healthy habits, like washing our hands regularly and before we eat, trying not to touch our face, and wiping down the areas around our seats with sanitising wipes.
In the age of social media and information about coronavirus and flying is readily available online, like the virus, misinformation can spread quickly. So always look out for official pages and advice! Common sense and remaining vigilant is the best preventative measure for the virus.
Notes: This is our take on the situation. You might want to do your own research before making your mind up on whether you should cancel your flight. If you have a different point of view be sure to comment below and let us know.