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Assessing the risk of COVID-19 transmission among travellers on airplanes and trains in China

Maogui Hu, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Jinfeng Wang, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Hui Lin, China Academy of Electronics and Information Technology
Corrine Ruktanonchai, Virginia Tech
Chengdong Xu, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Bin Meng, Beijing Union University
Xin Zhang, Aerospace Information Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Alessandra Carioli, University of Southampton
Yuqing Feng, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Qian Yin, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Jessica Floyd, WorldPop, School of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Southampton
Nick Ruktanonchai, Population Health Sciences, Virginia Tech
Zhongjie Li, Divisions of Infectious Diseases, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Weizhong Yang, School of Population Medicine and Public Health, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Peking Union Medical College
Andrew J. Tatem, University of Southampton
Shengjie Lai, University of Southampton

Modern transportation plays a key role in the long-distance and rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 and new variants. However, little is known about the transmission risk of the virus between domestic travellers on confined vehicles, such as airplanes and high-speed trains with high efficiency air filtration devices. Based on the itinerary and epidemiological data of COVID-19 cases and close contacts among 9,265 airline passengers on 291 airplanes and 29,335 passengers on 830 high-speed trains in China from December 20, 2019 to March 17, 2020, we estimated that the upper bound of overall attack rate of COVID-19 among passengers was 0.60% (95% confidence interval: 0.43%-0.84%) for airplanes and 0.35% (0.28%-0.44%) for trains departing from Wuhan before its lockdown, respectively. The risk varied by seat distance from the index case and joint travel time, but the difference in risk was not significant between the types of aircraft and train. These findings improve our understanding of COVID-19 spread during travel and may inform response efforts, such as lifting travel restrictions and resuming transportation in the vaccination and post-pandemic era.

Keywords: COVID-19, Internal migration, Health and morbidity, International migration

See paper.

  Presented in Session 180. Migration in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic