Risk of infection on planes doubled with omicron: report

The leading medical adviser to a group representing nearly 300 airlines said in a new interview that aircraft passengers are two or three times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 on a flight since the emergence of the omicron variant.

“Whatever the risk was with delta, we would have to assume the risk would be two to three times greater with omicron, just as we’ve seen in other environments,” David Powell, physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, told Bloomberg News.

He added that “it’s just that the relative risk has probably increased, just as the relative risk of going to the supermarket or catching a bus has increased with omicron.”

Powell advised that travel in business class could be safer than economy, noting that passengers should avoid face-to-face contact and commonly touched surfaces, according to Bloomberg.

“The greatest protection you can give yourself is to be vaccinated and boosted,” he said. “The protection that you give yourself from an extra mask or a different type of mask, or not flying at all, frankly, is probably less than the benefit you would get from just being fully boosted.”

Powell’s guidance comes as the omicron variant, which was discovered in South Africa last month, has become the dominant strain in the U.S. amid an increase of COVID-19 infections. 

With surges in holiday travel looming, some Democrats have urged federal agencies to mandate that airline passengers provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test before traveling on domestic flights. 

“Ensuring the health and safety of air travelers and their destination communities is critical to mitigating the ongoing COVID-19 surge, especially as the virus continues to evolve,” Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Steve Dickson.

Tags air travel COVID-19 Omicron variant Rochelle Walensky
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