One 18-Hour Flight, Four Coronavirus Infections

The versions of the coronavirus that all seven carried were virtually identical genetically — strongly suggesting that one person among them initiated the outbreak. That person, whom the report calls Passenger A, had in fact tested negative four or five days before boarding, the researchers found.

“Four or five days is a long time,” Dr. Karan said. “You should be asking for results of rapid tests done hours before the flight, ideally.”

Even restrictive “Covid-free” flights, international bookings that require a negative result to board, give people a day or two before departure to get a test.

The findings are not definitive, cautioned the authors, led by Dr. Tara Swadi, an adviser with New Zealand’s Health Ministry. But results “underscore the value of considering all international passengers arriving in New Zealand as being potentially infected, even if pre-departure testing was undertaken, social distancing and spacing were followed, and personal protective equipment was used in-flight,” the researchers concluded.

Previous studies of infection risk during air travel did not clearly quantify the risk, and onboard air filtration systems are thought to reduce the infection risk among passengers even when a flight includes one or more infected people. But at least two recent reports strongly suggest that in-flight outbreaks are a risk: one of a flight from Boston to Hong Kong in March; the other of a flight from London to Hanoi, Vietnam, also in March.

On the Hong Kong flight, the analysis suggested that two passengers who boarded in Boston infected two flight attendants. On the Hanoi flight, researchers found that 12 of 16 people who later tested positive were sitting in business class, and that proximity to the infectious person strongly predicted infection risk.

Airline policies vary widely, depending on the flight and the carrier. During the first months of the pandemic, most U.S. airlines had a policy of blocking off seats, or allowing passengers to reschedule if a flight was near 70 percent full. But by the holidays those policies were largely phased out, said Scott Mayerowitz, executive editor at The Points Guy, a website that covers the industry.

All countries
180,344,772
Total confirmed cases
Updated on June 24, 2021 1:43 am
Italy
4,255,434
Total confirmed cases
Updated on June 24, 2021 1:43 am
Spain
3,773,032
Total confirmed cases
Updated on June 24, 2021 1:43 am
Iran
3,128,395
Total confirmed cases
Updated on June 24, 2021 1:43 am
Germany
3,732,423
Total confirmed cases
Updated on June 24, 2021 1:43 am

Latest Updates

Without Backpackers to Pick Them, Crops Rot by the Ton in Australia

SHEPPARTON, Australia — Peter Hall ran a hand over the Gala apples sitting in a wooden crate on his orchard in southeastern Australia, lamenting...

U.S. Will Have Enough COVID-19 Vaccines for All Adults by End of May, Biden Says

You have reached your limit of 4 free articles. Get unlimited access to TIME.com.99¢ for the first month Subscribe Now You have...

Biden Vows Enough Vaccine ‘for Every Adult American’ by End of May

But Johnson & Johnson and its partners fell behind in their manufacturing. The company was supposed to deliver its first 37 million doses by...

Popular Articles

Without Backpackers to Pick Them, Crops Rot by the Ton in Australia

SHEPPARTON, Australia — Peter Hall ran a hand over the Gala apples sitting in a wooden crate on his orchard in southeastern Australia, lamenting...

U.S. Will Have Enough COVID-19 Vaccines for All Adults by End of May, Biden Says

You have reached your limit of 4 free articles. Get unlimited access to TIME.com.99¢ for the first month Subscribe Now You have...

Biden Vows Enough Vaccine ‘for Every Adult American’ by End of May

But Johnson & Johnson and its partners fell behind in their manufacturing. The company was supposed to deliver its first 37 million doses by...

Twitch gamer Sodapoppin quits fake GTA jobs because they’re too hard

Sometimes being a fake fast-food restaurant manager can be as taxing as being a real one. This is especially true when you also have pretend...

Sarkozy says could take corruption appeal to European human rights court

France's former president Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that he might consider taking his appeal against a corruption conviction to the European Court of...

Where Biden’s Foreign Policy Is Taking the U.S.

One day before the administration announced its decision on Saudi Arabia, Biden gave the first major indication of his presidency that he would be...

Interviews