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Opening middle seats on airplanes amid coronavirus pandemic risky, experts say

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Air Canada and WestJet both announced they will begin selling the middle seats on their aircrafts again as Canada slowly reopens amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, but experts caution that crowded cabins are risky and could lead to further outbreaks.

As of July 1, both airlines will have their middle seats available for sale.

The moves come after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) released a report earlier this month, calling for an end to physical distancing measures aboard aircraft.

However, Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said he was “appalled” to learn that airlines have decided to return to selling middle seats, saying that this should “absolutely not be going on.”

“I don’t want any Canadian taking that kind of risk,” he said.

Furness said people become infected with COVID-19 when they are in close proximity to someone who is sick with the virus.

That risk increases, he added, the longer you are in close quarters.

So an airplane is a disaster,” he explained. “You can’t get away.”

He said he “absolutely would not get on an airplane that is selling a middle seat.”

“And I would never advise anyone to do that,” he said.

Furness said he doesn’t think the middle seat on airplanes should be sold until there is a vaccine against the virus.

“We’ve got to do this until we’ve managed to contain COVID,” he said. “Having a low amount of community spread is not the answer. It’s helpful and it makes it less risky, but all it takes is one infected person on a plane and bang, you’ve got a really bad outbreak.”

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