Australia’s top medical experts say it is safe to sit in the middle seat on planes filled to capacity as aircrafts prepare to take to the skies across Australia once again.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd was asked on Today this morning if Australians should feel comfortable on planes, following Qantas’ announcement this week it would fill the middle seat.
“Given the measures that are in place, the answer to that is yes, but it does rely on the public and the travelling public,” Prof. Kidd said.
“Anybody who has any symptoms, as we keep reiterating, needs to stay at home – these people if they get to the airport will be picked up by the screening processes which the airlines are putting in place.”
However, screening will not account for asymptomatic passengers.
“We have very low numbers of community transmission occurring in Australia, so the chances of sitting next to somebody who is asymptomatic is very, very low in Australia at this time,” Prof. Kidd said.
He confirmed aircrafts will be thoroughly disinfected between flights and passengers will be offered masks and hand sanitiser.
This comes as airlines undertake risk mitigation following guidance from the national COVID-19 Coordination Commission.
“The challenge here is, of course, if you maintain physical distancing of 1.5m between people on aeroplanes, we would not have any planes flying in Australia,” Prof. Kidd said.
Earlier this week, Qantas Chief Executive, Alan Joyce, told Today the carrier’s new “Fly Well” program includes a range of improvements on Qantas and Jetstar flights to ensure a safe coronavirus free travel environment when domestic travel restarts.
“Because the cabin’s pressurised, 99.9 per cent of all viruses, all bacteria, are filtered through medical-grade filters, they are usually in operating theatres and the air is extracted every five minutes from the cabin,” he said.
Other health safety measures include the offer of face masks to passengers, more cleaning on high-contact areas like seats, overhead lockers and seatbelts, with cleaning wipes offered to passengers if they want to clean areas themselves.
Mr Joyce said the airline hoped to resume domestic flights by July and has urged states to lift coronavirus border closures by then.
Prof. Kidd said the differing stances between state premiers reflects how the pandemic is rolling out across the country.
“Obviously the epidemiology is different in different states with some states which now have had no new recorded cases for quite some days and other states where we continue to have very low levels of new cases being reported,” he said.