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COVID-19 outbreak started on a flight

Map shows the origin of passengers who showed symptoms of illness after the journey

Map: Alexandre Affonso

A study by immunologist Tara Swadi, chief adviser to the New Zealand Ministry of Health, is helping scientists to understand the potential for transmission of the novel coronavirus during air travel. Together with her colleagues, she followed flight EK448, which departed from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on September 29 with 86 passengers on board (a quarter of capacity) and landed 18 hours later in Auckland, New Zealand. A few days after its arrival, New Zealand health officials identified evidence of a possible COVID-19 outbreak that started on the trip: seven of the 86 passengers tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Three were reportedly infected when the plane left Dubai, two of whom admitted to not wearing masks on the plane or at the airport. The other four were believed to have caught the virus during the flight. A passenger who was already infected transmitted the virus to others (Emerging Infectious Diseases, March).