THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
February 5, 2020 at 13:45 JST
An employee of Nankai Electric Railway Co. wears a face mask while handling customer inquiries at Kansai Airport Station in Osaka Prefecture on Jan. 22. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
Isolating oneself from the risk of catching the deadly new coronavirus is hardly realistic, especially if travel is involved, but there are steps you can take to minimize the hazard.
A major concern for many people is how to protect themselves on packed commuter trains or when traveling by air or ship, where conditions are generally crowded.
Humans can become infected if their hands come into contact with the virus, say on train handstraps, and they touch their nose or mouth. The airborne virus also spreads through coughs and sneezing.
Face masks are crucial, as is frequent washing of hands with soap.
In spring 2014, a mass outbreak of influenza broke out on a cruise ship that infected between 3 and 6 percent of the passengers, according to a study.
Reiko Saito, a professor at Niigata University who specializes in public health, noted that "being packed in a confined space for 24 hours raises the risk of infection.”
According to a 2018 study released by Emory University in the United States, the chances of catching influenza from an infected passenger on an aircraft remain low if the two parties don't sit within a one-meter radius of each other.
Atsuo Hamada, a professor at Tokyo Medical University Hospital’s medical center for travelers, said: “As the air on aircraft is constantly replaced, it is relatively safe to fly.”
In packed trains, passengers are more at risk even if their journey is short. Striking up a conversation with a fellow passenger increases the risk as a droplet containing the virus can land a meter away.
In Shinkansen bullet trains and ships, passengers could become infected even if they sit apart from an infected person, simply by touching grab handles and doorknobs when moving to toilets and elsewhere.
“The toxic level of the coronavirus seems to be at around the same level as influenza," Hamada said. "I don’t want people to overreact, but just be aware the virus exists everywhere, including handstraps and grab handles. Wearing face masks, washing hands and sanitizing the hands helps prevent infection."
Tips on how to protect oneself from the coronavirus will be updated as necessary.
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