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How are Canada’s biggest airlines cleaning planes amid coronavirus outbreak?

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The spread of the novel coronavirus is top of mind for many Canadians, particularly those who travel. So what are Canada’s largest airlines doing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak?

As of Tuesday morning, travel health advisories were in place for 10 countries, with each country listed at a different risk level. On Monday, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommended against all cruise ship travel because of the risk of contracting COVID-19.

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In a notice sent to guests Monday, WestJet said it comprehensively trains staff for these types of scenarios as part of its overall emergency response. It has been working with the PHAC, Transport Canada and other agencies to ensure it is aware of, and aligned with, guidance regarding air travel.

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Beyond its standard aircraft cleaning with industry-approved products, WestJet has introduced additional measures to increase the sanitization of its aircraft.

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Clorox wipes and sprays are now being used to clean the galleys, lavatories, tray tables, seat armrests and headrests, seatbelt buckles, the power supply unit panel, overhead bin door latches and lavatory door handles.

WestJet planes are equipped with HEPA filters, similar to those used in hospitals. The company said the filters “achieve a viral and bacterial removal efficiency of greater than 99.99 per cent.” Fresh air is also brought into the cabin every two to three minutes, WestJet said.

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Air Canada said protecting passengers from the risk of infection by communicable diseases has always been a part of its safety protocols. Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the company said it will continue to rigorously follow the guidance of all relevant health authorities and follow best practices in the prevention and handling of communicable diseases.

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Air Canada said it uses cleaning products, including hospital-grade disinfectants, which have “wide-spectrum microbial activity and are proven effective against human coronavirus.”

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Between each flight, Air Canada said all frequently touched areas of the aircraft are sanitized, including lavatories, galleys and tray tables.

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Aircraft that stay in a station overnight receive full sanitization, according to the airline, which includes cleaning and sanitizing all hard surfaces, paying special attention to frequently touched surfaces such as armrests, entertainment screens, windows and window shades, lights, air vent and call controls, seat controls, lavatories and seatbelt buckles.

Air Canada said its aircraft are also equipped with HEPA filters that effectively capture 99.9 per cent of particulate from recirculated air in the aircraft cabin. The cabin air is also refreshed every two to three minutes.

READ MORE: Coronavirus isn’t a good reason to cancel your U.S. travel — yet

Flair Airlines, which does not fly internationally, said it has amended its flight change policy to be more lenient, but did not provide further details.

HEPA air filtration systems have also been introduced on all aircraft, John Mullins with Flair Airlines said in a statement.

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Enhanced cleaning is being done during flight turnovers and deep cleaning is being done on planes sitting overnight, the company said. Both of these tasks are conducted using Boeing-approved cleaners and disinfectants for all hard surfaces including counter tops, tray tables overhead bins latches, seat belt buckles and all washroom surfaces.

“We have stocked additional hand sanitizers and individually packaged sanitizer towelettes for our customers should they feel the need for additional sanitation measures,” the company said in a statement.

“Flair continues to follow the situation closely and always maintains our passenger safety as priority number one.”

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Sunwing Travel Group said in a statement all areas that passengers and crew routinely come into contact with — including lavatories, galleys and tray tables — are regularly cleaned and disinfected.

All aircraft are equipped with HEPA filters to reduce the spread of airborne pathogens in recirculated air. All staff are trained in infectious diseases protocol and have access to medical advice in flight if needed, the airline said.

Swoop said it has also increased the frequency of its aircraft sanitization, with the addition of two disinfecting products to its cleaning arsenal. Swoop aircraft is also equipped with state-of-the-art HEPA filters.

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Health Canada said it has implemented measures at 10 Canadian airports, which involve identifying any travellers returning to Canada who may be ill. Additional signage has also been added throughout the airports with information on what travellers should do if they become sick.

Human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs and are most commonly spread from an infected person through droplets when you cough or sneeze, close prolonged personal contact such as shaking hands, and touching something with the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.

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Anyone returning to Canada from international travel will need to respond to screening questions that have been added to electronic kiosks. Anyone returning to Canada from international travel is asked to monitor their health for fever, cough and difficulty breathing for 14 days after returning home.

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Anyone who develops symptoms is asked to stay home and call their local public health authority.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 77 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, one of which resulted in the death of a B.C. man who lived at a North Vancouver care home.

The PHAC says the public health risk associated with COVID-19 remains low in Canada, but public health is continually reassessed as new information becomes available.