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Another Study Finds Covid-19 Can Spread On Long Airline Flights

The now-familiar look of flying during the pandemic.


A new case study from New Zealand’s Ministry of Health finds that Covid-19 can spread on long-haul flights. In September, two other international studies came to the same conclusion.

The New Zealand researchers looked at an outbreak among passengers who had traveled on the same 18-hour Emirates flight from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Auckland, New Zealand in late September. Seven of the 86 passengers onboard later tested positive while in managed 14-day quarantine.

Mask use was not mandatory on the flight. Five of the infected passengers self-reported mask and glove use on the plane while two did not.

Of the seven infected passengers, five had tested negative within 48 hours before the flight. The outbreak was linked through DNA analysis to one passenger who had tested negative for Covid-19 with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 48 hours of the flight. That infected passenger was contagious but pre-symptomatic onboard the plane, and subsequently infected at least four other passengers.

“All seven of the SARS-CoV-2 genomes were genetically identical, with the exception of a single mutation in one case,” found the researchers. “Four of these six related genome sequences were from Switzerland, the country of origin of the suspected index case.”

“By combining information on disease progression, travel dynamics and genomic analysis, we conclude that at least four in-flight transmission events of SARS-CoV-2 likely took place,” the scientists wrote. “These transmission events occurred despite reported use of masks and gloves in-flight.”


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