Interventions targeting air travellers early in the pandemic may delay local outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2

Status: Paper published at journal | First online: 13-02-2020 | Last update: 23-10-2020

This article has been published at the Journal of Travel Medicine. Earlier preprints are avaialble at medRχiv


We evaluated if interventions aimed at air travellers can delay local severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) community transmission in a previously unaffected country.


We simulated infected air travellers arriving into countries with no sustained SARS-CoV-2 transmission or other introduction routes from affected regions. We assessed the effectiveness of syndromic screening at departure and/or arrival and traveller sensitisation to the COVID-2019-like symptoms with the aim to trigger rapid self-isolation and reporting on symptom onset to enable contact tracing. We assumed that syndromic screening would reduce the number of infected arrivals and that traveller sensitisation reduces the average number of secondary cases. We use stochastic simulations to account for uncertainty in both arrival and secondary infections rates, and present sensitivity analyses on arrival rates of infected travellers and the effectiveness of traveller sensitisation. We report the median expected delay achievable in each scenario and an inner 50% interval.


Under baseline assumptions, introducing exit and entry screening in combination with traveller sensitisation can delay a local SARS-CoV-2 outbreak by 8 days (50% interval: 3–14 days) when the rate of importation is 1 infected traveller per week at time of introduction. The additional benefit of entry screening is small if exit screening is effective: the combination of only exit screening and traveller sensitisation can delay an outbreak by 7 days (50% interval: 2–13 days). In the absence of screening, with less effective sensitisation, or a higher rate of importation, these delays shrink rapidly to <4 days.


Syndromic screening and traveller sensitisation in combination may have marginally delayed SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks in unaffected countries.