Coronavirus Pandemic

UAE: How safe is air travel during Covid pandemic?

Saman Haziq/Dubai
Filed on June 5, 2021 | Last updated on June 6, 2021 at 12.15 am

Health experts urge travellers to follow safety measures in airports and flights

Is it safe to travel by air amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic? The swirling conversation is about the airborne SARS-CoV-2, which causes the contagion, as questions abound: whether there is a risk of aerosol transmission on a flight’s cabin?

These are some of the pertinent questions that experts at a medical aviation conference held in Dubai addressed, as they reiterated that air travel is the safest mode of travel during the pandemic.

At a time when people are avoiding travel due to fear of contracting Covid-19, experts at the first edition of the Burjeel Medical Aviation Congress organised by Burjeel Hospital, Dubai, a unit of VPS Healthcare, urged the public to follow safety measures on flights and at airports.

“The risk of contracting an infection is very low during air travel,” said Dr John Chalkley, an aviation medical expert. “

All aviation companies are following an international protocol and have adopted all safety measures to ensure the health and well-being of the passengers,” he said.

Dr Chalkley stated that his conclusions were drawn from several studies, which indicate the effectiveness of safety measures in the aircraft. However, he emphasised that the focus should be on community guidelines at the airport and strict adherence to it by the public.

“Airlines have several safety measures, and one of the crucial among them is the high-efficiency particulate air filtration (HEPA) system. It ensures high airflow, allows for the exchange of cabin air every two to three minutes, and filters close to 99 per cent of virus particles. It has been proven through reviews that the spreading of infection in an aircraft can be minimised if all passengers are wearing a face mask properly,” he added.

The reviews to mitigate transmission of the illness on a flight have found that proper masking can yield desirable results to a large extent. Transmission through droplets and being close to an infected person in an aircraft pose the highest risk. However, several studies suggest that aerosol exposure is minimal even during long-duration flights.

“Risk of transmission on board is low for the reasons highlighted, and it seems that the bigger risk is not infection on board, but rather importation of community spread, due to carriage of people unknowingly incubating Covid-19,” they added.

Aviation medical experts, who attended the congress, urged air passengers to strictly follow the general safety precautions put in place by the airline industry and respective governments. “The International Air Transport Association (Iata) considers flying to be safe. However, Iata recommends wearing a mask when flying and following the biosafety measures implemented by the individual airlines. Covid-19 tests up to three days before flying and up to five days after the travel are recommended by the US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These recommendations may vary from country to country,” they added.

The conference brought together like-minded health professionals and experts in the field, who discussed at length the latest developments in aviation medicine and medical specialties assisting doctors in preventing and treating common health problems faced by aviation professionals.

Experts at the conference also touched upon the importance of mental health. Aviation medical practitioners and other healthcare professionals should proactively discuss work-related and personal difficulties due to Covid-19 with pilots and cabin crew, the conference maintained. “De-stigmatising mental health issues and encouraging access to support programs or specialist mental health support is essential,” the experts said.

Professor Dr Erik Hohmann, Conference Chairman and Consultant Orthopedic & Trauma Surgeon, Sports Physician at Burjeel Hospital, Dubai, said that over 50 per cent of health problems in the aviation industry are related to musculoskeletal issues.

“Aviation professionals such as pilots and cabin crew cannot return to work unless they are fit to perform all required duties. Treating aviation professionals is very similar to treating professional athletes. A focused and prompt team approach with a dedicated team including orthopaedic surgeons, aviation medical examiners, and rehabilitation professionals well-versed in treating professional athletes guarantees the best outcome and fastest return to work,” Dr Hohmann added.

Burjeel Medical Aviation Congress is the first aviation congress held in Dubai catering to medical professionals from the industry and providing all the latest developments in aviation medicine, orthopaedics, and other important aspects of flying such as crew management, fatigue, and aviation safety.

More than 100 aviation and healthcare experts from the Middle East attended the conference.

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