80,000 air travelers boarded flights with an infected passenger
At least 80 thousand people who flew to Dutch airports sat near a passenger infected with coronavirus in the past 16 months. Only 19,500 of them were contacted by the GGD, according to data originally published in the Volkskrant.
Since June 2020, at least 11,488 infected passengers are known to have boarded flights to the Netherlands on 9,434 flights. The eighty thousand they came into contact with include other passengers and airline crew members.
The GGD attempted to contact all passengers who sat in the two rows surrounding the infected passenger on all sides, as well as crew members. Three-quarters of these attempts were unsuccessful.
The average risk of contracting the virus in the row of the infected passenger, and three surrounding rows in both directions, is between 1 in 1,800 and 1 in 120. This data come from research conducted this summer by Dutch Aerospace Center (NLR) together with the RIVM.
During the peak of summer travel, the GGD contacted 10% fewer surrounding passengers. In many cases, phone calls were not even attempted and email served as a substitute means for communication because of a lack of time, said GGD spokesman Harm Groustra.
Covid-19 testing on arrival was never mandatory in the Netherlands. "Someone can get infected on a flight, but not develop symptoms and therefore never get tested," added the spokesperson. "It is not inconceivable that people with a positive self-test did not have it re-confirmed but did go into isolation or quarantine."
The number of surrounding passengers who contracted the virus remains unknown at this time.
Remaining at home was still the best way to quell the spread of the virus, said Marco Groeijenbier, a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center. "You are much more likely to become infected when you travel than when you stay at home," he stated. "Also, the major risk is that international travel will allow new virus variants to spread rapidly."