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How Covid-19 has changed air travel as we knew it

Written by Dr. Ahmad Latif
on 20 February 2021


International travel before the pandemic was, to some extent a highly organized industry: you could book a flight months in advance and feel confident that borders would stay open by the time you departed.

Since January 2020, The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we think about travelling. Most countries in the world have adopted some measure of lockdown or restriction to movement to reduce transmission of the virus.
After the historic drop in air travel this spring, people are steadily flying again, some are still hesitant.
In Jan 2020 WHO has advised against the application of travel or trade restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.

The justification is that Travel measures that significantly interfere with international traffic may only be justified at the beginning of an outbreak, as they may allow countries to gain time, even if only a few days, to rapidly implement effective preparedness measures. Such restrictions must be based on a careful risk assessment, be proportionate to the public health risk, be short in duration, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves.
And the WHO consider travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation of cases but may have a significant economic and social impact. (HWO 2021)

However, Due to the evolving COVID-19 situation, many international airlines and various governments have issued precautionary measures, mandatory protocols and requirements for travelers.
The outbreak reaches unexpected overwhelming spread, with Globally, as of 4:18pm CET, 19 February 2021, there have been 110,224,709 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2,441,901 deaths, reported to WHO.

How clean is the air in commercial aircraft?
Despite substantial numbers of travelers, the number of suspected and confirmed cases of in-flight COVID-19 transmission between passengers around the world appears small. In comparison, a study of COVID-19 transmission aboard high-speed trains in China among contacts of more than 2300 known cases showed an overall rate of 0.3% among all passengers.
The airflow in current jet airliners is much faster than normal indoor buildings. Half of it is fresh air from outside, the other half is recycled through HEPA filters of the same type used in operating rooms. (JAMA. 2020)
In spite of the global debate, many airlines supported a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proposal to implement “a global program to require testing for travelers to the United States,” the letter added.
Many of the travel amenities we normally expect are still operating at limited capacity. When you arrived at any Airport you will notice the difference few shops open and some times not a single open restaurant after security.
Air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging for travelers, airlines, airports, health authorities, and governments.
Despite the reassuring information about the safety of air travel still Ongoing research review are required to provide evidence on the effectiveness of preventive measures and to help answer the question “is it safe to fly?“ (NCBI 2020)

One example of a flexible and resilient response to the pandemic by an international carrier is Qatar Airways QA experience, it continues to take firm steps to face COVID-19 (coronavirus). The airline’s robust measures include amending its flight schedule, working with governments to take people home, and introducing new policies to ensure the health and safety of staff, and maintaining its vital cargo operations, passengers from different countries used QA to return home when many airlines and borders locked down.
The airway adjusted flight schedules on a daily basis, and since the outbreak of the virus they adopted a robust hygiene practice.
Qatar Airways continues to fly almost normal schedule except they temporarily hold flights to severely affected countries due to entry restrictions implemented by many governments to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
 The airline is also offered maximum flexibility to passengers in terms of managing their travel plans. (QA 2021)

 

What does the future hold for travelers? The availability of a COVID-19 vaccine will be instrumental in reinstating confidence in travelers. However, it is expected that many airlines will cut services such as meals, drinks, and free magazines, not so much for economic reasons but as a way to limit touchpoints and close physical proximity between flyers and crew. ( The lancet 2020)
despite large numbers of studies, there is still only scant evidence evaluating protective measures for air travel or indeed for everyday life. How useful are masks, hand sanitizers, thermal screening, pre-flight testing, seat distancing and air filtration systems respectively? (Travel Med Infect Dis. 2021)

Sources:

1- World Health Organization 2020
https://www.who.int/news-room/articles-detail/updated-who-recommendations-for-international-traffic-in-relation-to-covid-19-outbreak

2- JAMA. 2020;324(17):1798. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19108

3- Travel Med Infect Dis. 2021 January-February; 39: 101915. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7655026/

4- https://www.qatarairways.com/en-qa/safety-measures.html

5- The lancet, VOLUME 20, ISSUE 9, P993, SEPTEMBER 01, 2020

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