International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments, as they start reopening their economies, to avoid imposing quarantine on arriving air passengers. Instead, the global representative body for the aviation industry is advocating a layered approach to reduce the risk of countries re-importing the Covid-19 disease through air travel.
Alexandre de Juniac, chief executive officer and director-general of IATA, said that imposing quarantine measures on arriving travellers keeps countries in isolation and the travel and tourism sector in lockdown.
The IATA CEO highlighted that, fortunately, there are policy alternatives that can reduce the risk of importing Covid-19 infections while still allowing for the resumption of travel and tourism that are vital to jump-starting national economies.
“We are proposing a framework with layers of protection to keep sick people from traveling and to mitigate the risk of transmission should a traveller discover they were infected after arrival,” he said.
One of the measures to reduce the risk of importing Covid-19 is discouraging people with the symptoms of the disease from traveling. To aid in this, airlines were offering flexibility to passengers who had to change their bookings because they were ill or exposed to ill people.
IATA also supported health screening of passengers by means of health declarations, ideally submitted in a standardised electronic format. Non-intrusive temperature checks could also be helpful, and a recent IATA survey showed that such checks made 80% of travellers feel safer.
For passengers arriving from higher-risk Covid-19 countries, testing them for the disease could be considered, as such tests should be done before the travellers arrive at their departure airport, to avoid congestion there, with the passengers bringing along their documentation showing that they have tested negative for the disease. Tests would have to be easily available, very accurate, independently validated and internationally-accepted.
According to the IATA boss, a layered approach to safety has made flying the safest way to travel while still enabling the system to function efficiently. That should be an inspirational framework to guide governments in protecting their citizens from the terrible risks of both the virus and joblessness.
Regarding risk mitigation when unknowingly infected people travel, the association stressed the importance of applying the take-off guidelines developed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
Contact tracing should be used as a back-up procedure. Further, governments were adopting measures to restrict the spread of Covid-19 in their own territories such measures that would also mitigate the risk of arriving travellers spreading the sickness.
“Safely restarting the economy is a priority,” he pointed out. “That includes travel and tourism. Quarantine measures may play a role in keeping people safe, but they will also keep many unemployed. The alternative is to reduce risks through a series of measures,’’ de Juniac said.