COVID-19. Is it OK to Take Domestic Flights?

12th Mar 2020

Suvarnabhumi Empty

This morning Air Asia are offering free seats in their #AirAsiaBIGSale promotion, presumably to bolster flagging business in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. A healthy comments section shows that this has interested many people.

At the same time, the Bangkok Post is reporting that the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT) has set a goal for increasing domestic trips taken by local tourists. Their aim is for 200 million trips to take place which would require an increase of 20% compared to last year.

The revenue of this website, is entirely driven by commissions from ticket sales, yet the short-sighted thinking of the airlines and the TCT concerns us. Whilst governments are putting severe restrictions on international flights, this does nothing to slow the local spread and we must all give some thought about what travel we consider to be essential.

COVID-19 signs and symptoms

According to the World Health organisation signs and symptoms of the virus are:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

They say that to help keep yourself and others healthy:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

How it spreads

At the time of writing, the Center for Disease control’s understanding of the way the coronavirus spreads is as follows:

“The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Specifically reporting on airline travel, the world Health organisation currently report:

Research has shown that there is very little risk of any communicable disease being transmitted on board an aircraft.

Most modern aircraft have recirculation systems, which recycle up to 50% of cabin air. The recirculated air is usually passed through HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, of the type used in hospital operating theatres and intensive care units, which trap dust particles, bacteria, fungi and viruses.

During the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, the risk of transmission of the disease in aircraft was found to be very low.

However, as a rough guide, Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security suggests that according to current research the virus could exist on surfaces anywhere from a few hours to a day, but can easily be eliminated by household cleaners.  This could apply to a seat back table or a check-in desk surface.

Current situation in Thailand

At the time of writing, data from John Hopkins University shows that in Thailand there are 59 confirmed cases, 34 recovered and 1 death. Of those infected, 2 work at Suvarnabhumi airport, 1 as an immigration officer.

In an effort to contain the spread Thailand has currently banned visa on arrival for 18 countries and visa exemptions for 3 countries.  

AirAsia are issuing refunds for international flights under certain conditions. Other airlines are have similar policies.

The larger hospitals in Bangkok (Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Rajavithi Hospital, Ramathibodi Hospital, Siriraj Hospital and some private healthcare providers) have the capability to perform PCR testing. PCR (polymerase chain reaction ) is currently the main test for COVID-19. It tests a swabbed sample from a patient’s nose and throat.

There are no official figures for the number of tests performed in Thailand.

What should I do?

According to Nicholas Christaki, Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University, without any pharmaceutical means to stop the spread, the most effective measures taken worldwide to combat the disease is that of social distancing: containing the spread by avoiding social gatherings.  This “flattens the curve” of infections. That is to say it stops infections from dramatically increasing in a short space of time by reducing the speed at which it spreads.

Pushing the cases into the future has 2 benefits for both the individual and society: reducing the demands on the healthcare system and increasing the chance that there will be a drug to treat the disease.

Reduce your own personal risk and help society by playing your part to interrupt the means by which the virus spreads from person to person. Avoid crowded places, don’t shake hands, wash hands several times a day, and avoid all non-essential travel and meetings.