IATA Presses For Alternatives to Quarantines and Travel Bans

 - June 24, 2020, 10:19 AM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

Quarantine requirements unilaterally imposed by individual countries are proving to be as damaging to the air transport industry’s efforts to recover as full-blown travel bans, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In its weekly Covid-19 press briefing on Wednesday, the industry association urged governments to urgently address the damage being done by quarantines and travel restrictions by focusing on the implementation measures recommended by the ICAO Council’s Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART).

IATA is proposing a two-step risk mitigation strategy as an alternative to quarantines and travel bans. This would focus on reducing the risk of “importing Covid” on flights and also reducing the risk of transmission of the virus in destination countries.

Recommendations start with discouraging symptomatic passengers from traveling through flexible flight booking policies. IATA also advocates health declaration and screening requirements using contactless methods including apps and online portals. It said that testing passengers for Covid should be reserved for travelers from defined high-risk countries and should use non-invasive methods that are independently validated so as to be universally accepted.

The group repeated its insistence that testing should be the responsibility of governments, which should bear the cost. In the interests of data privacy protection, it feels that all data sharing should be strictly conducted between passengers and government agencies.

IATA said that the risk to passengers of infection during journeys can be effectively mitigated by implementing the measures contained in CART’s recently published TakeOff guidance. This guidance, which is closely aligned with recommendations from both FAA and EASA, includes multi-layered measures covering procedures for airports, aircraft, aircrew, and cargo.

IATA’s chief economist Brian Pearce showed findings from a new survey indicating that travelers are as concerned about being subject to quarantine requirements as they are about becoming infected by the virus. In the survey, 45 percent of the respondents said they are very concerned about Covid infection and 39 percent said they are concerned. The equivalent numbers for concern over quarantines were 42 percent and 43 percent. Around 83 percent of surveyed travelers indicated that they will not consider traveling to countries with quarantine measures.

Pearce presented data showing that countries such as Israel, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Austria, and Greece that have implemented quarantines saw arrivals decrease by at least 90 percent and at rates that were around the same as for other countries that had complete travel bans. IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac said that so-called air bridges or travel budgets being proposed as alternatives to quarantines and travel bans are no more than temporary solutions that add new burdens to an already struggling industry.

Questioned as to whether he expects the European Union (EU) to lift its current ban on all nonessential travel from outside the Schengen states, de Juniac told reporters that he expects to see a partial lifting from July 1 and acknowledged reports that the U.S. could continue to be excluded along with other states with high rates of infection, such as Brazil, Russia, India, and the UK.

“We’re not saying that governments should just open their borders [with no restrictions], but that those considering the need for quarantines should consider a more layered approach that would protect against the highest risks,” he said. Urging governments to protect citizens from both the virus and unemployment, he argued, “Quarantine is a lopsided solution that protects one and absolutely fails at the other.”

Pearce warned that a possible second wave of Covid infections would increase the damage being done to the air transport sector. He said IATA’s research indicates that it would extend the time taken for the industry to return to 2019 levels of activity from 2023 to 2024.