“The message is that protecting yourself involves physical distancing. It involves hand-washing and it involves, when you can’t physically distance, wearing a mask to protect others,” he said. “If there is airborne transmission, we need to better understand it before we can put interventions in place.
“What we don’t know yet is whether this virus can get into air systems on an airplane or into an air conditioning system in a restaurant, for example – but there’s no evidence yet that shows that it does.
“And so, collecting that evidence over time, maybe doing experiments, maybe putting guinea pigs, or hamsters rather, on airplanes and flying them around with airborne transmission might be a way of showing those things.
“But these are complex studies which need to be developed in order to understand, and this is observation. Observation will tell us, now that airlines are flying again, whether or not people are getting infected on airplanes, and it will tell us whether or not people are getting infected in spaced restaurants, in areas like that.”
Prof Heymann said the Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) coronavirus did not transmit through circulating air, although it had a different means of reproduction in the lungs, while tuberculosis did not transmit on aeroplanes.
He added that, in the absence of evidence of airborne transmission, individuals should choose to fly based on their own perception of risk, and follow airline guidelines.