By Dr Karin van der Merwe and Dr Venitha Seral, both general practitioners working in Johannesburg and members of GGPC (Gauteng General Practitioners collaboration) which has a platform for doctors to share resources during COVID-19.  Look for  #VoicesThatCare
travel safety tips
The lockdown is on its way out but COVID-19 will be with us for a while. As we are able to travel more freely, it is vital to do so as safely as possible. These tips will help you prepare for your trip – and keeping you safe in flight, during transfer and at the airport too.  

Weigh up risks vs benefits carefully

Travel using any form of public transport poses risks for contracting COVID-19. This is due to multiple surfaces touched by many people, crowds of travelers and rebreathing of air. It goes without saying then that we should only travel if really necessary.  Do not travel if you:
  • have any symptoms suggestive of COVID-19.
  • have had contact with someone with COVID-19 
  • are at high risk for severe COVID-19 ( over 60 years old and/or comorbidities)
  • live with someone who is at high risk. 

Safety tips and measures for Air Travel

Reassuringly, no super spreading events have been traced to a specific flight. There are a few reasons for this:

  • most planes have HEPA filters (High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters). These block 99.7% of airborne microbes.
  • Cabin air is circulated vertically from ceiling to floor and refreshed every 2-3 minutes.
  • Regulations require that cabins are wiped down with antimicrobials between flights. Check airline policy on their websites for specific cleaning procedures of the cabin.

Preparing for travel

Before your trip make sure you know:

  • quarantine procedures  at your destination
  • health facilities available at your destination.
  • whether your medical insurance will cover your medical expenses 
  • find out the incidence of COVID-19 at your destination so that you can assess the risk and implement extra precautions as necessary.
  • if you require a negative COVID test before flying internationally 

Transfers to and from the airport

Remember the flight itself is probably not the most dangerous part of the trip. If you take an Uber or taxi to the airport:

  • wipe down the seat, and door handles
  • keep the window open.
  • sit at the back
  • handle your own bags.

If you rent a car, it’s surfaces also need to be wiped down.

Be extra vigilant at the airport

  • Use an airline app to check in.
  • Opt for touchless boarding and cashless transactions.
  • Avoid eating at the restaurants by taking your own food when possible.
  • Decrease any items in bags that may warrant searching of the bag.
  • Have sanitizer available.
  • Wipe your baggage handles on collection.
  • If you need to be patted down for security reasons, the officer should wear a clean glove.

 Safely up and away – flight tips

  • Food and beverages: there is usually no/limited food or beverage service to limit contact between customers and crew.
  • Seating: try to sit next to the window as aisle seats have more people moving past. Studies show that most illness is likely to be transmitted only to passengers within 1 row of the infected person. However, if a crew member is ill they could potentially infect an average of 4.6 passengers.
  • Bathroom: decrease your bathroom visits in-flight, rather use the airport restroom as these are cleaned more often.
  • Movement: stay in your seat for the entire journey if you can and decrease stretching your legs or using the overhead storage bins.
  • Timing: try to fly during off peak times to decrease the amount of people on the flight.
  • Boarding: get to your seat with your mask on and sit down as quickly as possible. Queuing when the ventilation system is not running is most risky. 

Don’t let your guard down, even in travel!

Basic safety measures for prevention of COVID-19 apply no matter where in the world you are!  

Wear an appropriate mask at all times

  • Consider getting an N95 mask or surgical mask as these probably offer slightly more protection than fabric masks.
  • Take spare masks and a clean plastic container with you to store your mask while eating or drinking. 

Keep 1.5 – 2m distance from people

  • This may not be possible in fixed seating arrangements like aeroplane cabins but should be observed whenever possible.

Sanitize regularly

  • Limit contact with frequently touched surfaces.
  • Keep some wipes to  wipe down your seat, arm rest, tray and anything else you may touch.
  • Remember to take sanitiser in a container with a volume less than 100ml, otherwise you will not be allowed to take it onboard.

Bon voyage! Travel safe and Travel wise!

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