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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

The risk of COVID-19 transmission on airplanes and high-speed trains  Seminar

4 February 2021
Via Teams

Event details

Geography & Environmental Science Seminar

Modern transportation plays a key role in long-distance and rapid spread of COVID-19. However, the transmission risk of SARS-CoV-2 on confined vehicles, e.g., airplane and trains, remains little known. Based on the itinerary and epidemiological data of 9,265 airline passengers on 291 routes and 29,335 high-speed train passengers on 830 routes from December 20, 2019 to March 17, 2020 across mainland China, here we assess spreading risk of COVID-19 among train and plane passengers. We estimated that the upper bound of overall attack rate (AR) of passengers contacting to a patient departing from Wuhan before its lockdown was only 0.60% (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.43% - 0.84%) in airplanes and 0.35% (95%CI 0.28% - 0.44%) in high-speed trains, respectively. By excluding potential transmission at home or working places beyond the journey, the lower bounds of overall AR in airplanes and high-speed trains were 0.33% (95%CI 0.21% - 0.53%) and 0.21% (95%CI 0.16% - 0.29%), respectively. Additionally, the number of infectees per index case was relatively small, with only 0.12 (standard deviation [SD] 0.40) to 0.19 (0.45) cases for airplanes and 0.07 (0.29) to 0.12 (0.40) for trains. The risk varied with the space distance from the index case seat and the joint travel time, but the difference of risk was not significant by aircraft and train type. Overall, the risk of COVID-19 transmission on planes/trains with high efficiency air filtration devices was relatively low. Our findings contribute to an improved understanding of COVID-19 transmission during travelling and to inform response efforts and reopening economy in the ongoing and future waves of the pandemic.

Speaker Information

Dr Shengjie Lai, Senior Research Fellow within Geography and Environmental Science at the University of Southampton.

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