Fikile Mbalula addressed the media on Monday, to discuss the relaxed regulations for the aviation industry. Recreational flights will be allowed from Wednesday, as six more domestic airports open their doors. However, the Transport Minister turned a few heads with his comments about coronavirus and filter systems.
“Planes eat the virus” – Fikile Mbalula
Mbaks, who has a certain way with words, told the press that he was confident all flights could operate at 100% capacity – inviting as many passengers as possible on board – due to the fact that the filtration system on-board every aircraft has the capacity to “eat the virus”:
“People ask why we are operating at 100% capacity on flights. It’s because planes can absorb disease. Planes are fitted with High Efficiency Particulate Air-Filters (HEPA). The plane is not a taxi. You fly for, say, two hours and you are compressed. The filter can eat any form of virus, including COVID-19.”
“The same does not happen in a car or a taxi. You can have the windows down, and the multiple stops. These are very technical issues and since we reopened, there’s been no coronavirus cases linked to flying. You are better protected on a plane than you are anywhere else.”
Can COVID-19 survive on a flight?
His comments raised eyebrows, with many asking how COVID-19 got to South Africa if planes could kill the virus. However, the devil is in the detail – and that’s perhaps what Fikile Mbalula has left out here.
The HEPA system is incredibly effective and kills more than 99.99% of all airborne germs. It has the capacity to kill coronavirus particulates in the air, but it cannot remove the disease from inside an affected person. Once someone with COVID-19 steps off the plane, they can still spread the illness.
FlySafair made the same argument as Mbalula a few weeks back, when they ran a contentious offer for cautious passengers to ‘buy an empty middle seat’ for social distancing reasons. In the same breath, the domestic carrier said that HEPA kills off almost all hazardous airborne microbes – and flights at 100% capacity are nothing to be feared.