Hand hygiene can reduce spread of coronavirus at airports

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New York: As the coronavirus disease, now officially known as COVID-19, which has claimed over 1,300 lives in China, researchers have revealed that increasing traveller engagement with proper hand hygiene at all airports has the potential to reduce the risk of a potential pandemic by 24-69 per cent.

The study, published in the journal Risk Analysis, analyses the impact of implementing disease mitigation strategies at airports across the globe.

“Airports, and airplanes, are highly infectious because they are close, confined areas with large, mobile populations. Viruses are spread through bodily fluids, so keeping hands clean at major transport hubs is central to control spread,” said study lead author Christos Nicolaides, from the University of Cyprus and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The researchers identified 10 critical airports, central to the global air-transportation network, and if hand-washing mitigation strategies are implemented in just these ten locations, the pandemic risk can drop by up to 37 per cent.

The airports include: London Heathrow, Los Angeles International, John F. Kennedy, Charles de Gaulle, Dubai International, Frankfurt, Hong Kong International, Beijing Capital, San Francisco and Amsterdam Schiphol.

The study suggests that if increased hand-washing practices were instituted in 10 key there would be a significant impact on decreasing the spread of viruses.

These ten airports are not just locations that see large volumes of passengers, they also connect travellers with destinations in all parts of the world.

Airports also contain numerous highly contaminated surfaces that are frequently touched by travelers, including self-service check-in screens, gate bench armrests, water fountain buttons, door handles, seats and tray tables.

In addition to increasing the frequency at which public areas are cleaned and sanitized, using proper coughing etiquette, wearing face masks and proper hand hygiene practices are the most common actions that can be adopted by air travellers.

Currently, analyses show that, at most, one in five people have clean hands at any given moment.

If hand cleanliness at all airports increased from 20 per cent to 30 per cent, by increasing the capacity and awareness of hand-washing, the impact of a potential infectious disease would have a global impact that is 24 per cent smaller.

Meanwhile, chinese authorities on Thursday said the overall toll due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the country has reached 1,361, with 59,539 confirmed cases, after Hubei province, the epicentre of the epidemic, registered the largest one-day increase in infections and deaths.