Chief medical officer signals support for filling middle seat

written by Adam Thorn | June 12, 2020
Qantas facemasks new
This image, released by Qantas, shows passengers onboard wearing face masks (Qantas)

Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, has reiterated his support for filling the middle seat on flights, claiming that short-haul airlines present “quite a low risk of transmission”.

It comes after both Qantas and Virgin last month reversed an earlier pledge to practice social distancing on board, instead introducing measures such as providing masks and wipes to passengers.

Speaking before SA and Queensland announced dates to open their borders, Dr Murphy said, “We have not seen a clear case of transmission of the virus on a domestic flight in Australia.

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“So whilst initially the airlines were practising good distancing, they are now occupying their seats more fully, and I know that’s one of the circumstances where we think it’s not an unreasonable choice if someone chooses to wear a mask.”

In May, the Qantas Group said it would provide free masks to its passengers but the wearing of them wouldn’t be enforced.

Similarly, customers are now handed wipes to wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests if preferred, alongside sequenced boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding.

As yet, there is no legal obligation in Australia to enforce social distancing onboard.

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Qantas medical director, Dr Ian Hosegood, said, “Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe.”

Rex, however, has taken a far more hardline approach, making the wearing of masks mandatory and asking passengers to bring their own or purchase one pre-flight.

A statement from Rex said, “Passengers will be denied boarding if they refuse to wear a mask except if there are exceptional reasons.

“Passengers must wear masks at Rex check-in counters (or worn immediately after purchasing from a check-in counter), at boarding gates, during tarmac transfer both at boarding and disembarkation (including during bus transfers), and whilst on-board the aircraft.”

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