30 September 2020

COVID-19 update: World-leading research paper released into air travel transmission

World-leading research into flight-associated transmission of COVID-19 led by Western Australian communicable disease control experts has been published overnight.

The Flight-Associated Transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Corroborated by Whole-Genome Sequencing (external site) is the first published investigation to demonstrate flight-associated transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Australia and is among the first studies worldwide to use whole genome sequencing to support epidemiological findings in a flight transmission investigation.

The research found that flight-associated SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurred on a medium haul flight from Sydney to Perth in March 2020, leading to the infection of at least eight other passengers.

The findings demonstrate the need for public health follow up of close contacts on flights and the importance of current airline efforts to reduce risk.

The circumstances of this outbreak were relatively unique and the overall risk of acquiring COVID-19 related to air travel is likely to be low. However, given the findings of this study, air travellers should adopt measures to reduce their risk.

The paper, published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, is a collaboration between Metropolitan Communicable Disease Control, Perth; Public Health Emergency Operation Centre, Perth; PathWest Laboratory Medicine Western Australia; University of Notre Dame and University of Western Australia.

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