Aviation Groups Applaud EASA/ECDC Quarantine Rebuke

 - December 2, 2020, 12:37 PM

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

European and international aviation associations called for the complete abolition of quarantine restrictions and other travel restrictions following Wednesday’s publication by EASA and the European Center for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC) of guidance recommending that authorities do not automatically consider airline passengers high risk for spreading Covid infection. The new European guidelines, published at the behest of the European Commission, call for states to treat travelers in the same way they treat members of the local populations who have not had any direct contact with a person infected with Covid-19.

Based on the latest scientific evidence and information, the document’s conclusions reflect the fact that estimates of the prevalence of the new coronavirus infections among travelers show a lower incidence of infection than in the general population, said EASA, citing measures in place in aviation minimize the possibility of transmission during the air travel process.

“These guidelines unequivocally show quarantines to be essentially politically-driven, non-risk-based measures which bear no relation to what is actually needed to safeguard public health,” said Airports Council International (ACI) Europe director general Olivier Jankovec. “As such, quarantines fail the test of proportionality, a key principle of EU law – particularly since there are no equivalent measures at land borders. This has resulted in unprecedented limitations to the freedom of movement and the freedom to provide services. We call on national governments to immediately abolish their quarantine restrictions and restore freedom of movement for European citizens.”

The guidelines come after consistent lobbying by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and others for uniform and systematic testing of all passengers in lieu of quarantine measures. Welcoming the recent publication of ICAO’s Testing and Cross-border Risk Management Mitigation Manual as “encouraging progress” in the effort to reopen travel, the group cited a comment from the WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee chairman, Dr. Didier Houssin, who IATA said, foresees a role for testing as a means of re-opening international travel without quarantine measures. 

“Clearly the use of the tests is certainly now supposed to have a much larger place compared to quarantine, for example, which would certainly facilitate things considering all the efforts which have been made by airlines and by airports,” said Houssin following the WHO Emergency Committee Meeting on October 30.

For his part, IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said that he sees encouraging signs of progress in terms of his group’s efforts to loosen quarantine requirements.

“Momentum is building in support of our call for systematic testing to safely re-open borders without quarantine measures,” claimed de Juniac. “ICAO, working with health authorities and industry, has produced a high-level framework. Health authorities are beginning to explore how testing could supersede quarantine to stop the cross-border spread of the virus. Encouraging results from testing pilot programs should now give states the confidence to move forward quickly.”

In fact, a joint statement issued by IATA, ACI Europe, Airlines for Europe (A4E), and the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) highlighted the effectiveness of systematic testing in creating quarantine-free travel corridors on certain air routes, most recently between Italy and the U.S.

“Rapid testing, which utilizes the latest technologies available and meets the high sensitivity and sensibility criteria established by ECDC, can help restore predictability, reignite passenger confidence, and thus reestablish flight connectivity for European passengers,” said A4E managing director Thomas Reynaert in the statement.   

However, Wednesday’s EASA-ECDC statement also pointed to the limited effects of testing on reducing the spread of the disease, particularly during travel between areas of similar risk or when moving from less risky areas to regions with a higher prevalence of the disease. In fact, EASA said routine passenger testing could result in a diversion of resources from more urgent needs such as contact tracing and testing of those known to have come in contact with an infected person.

“The scientific evidence enclosed in the addendum to the ECDC – EASA Aviation Health Safety Protocol concludes that the member states should not focus on screening travelers,” said ECDC director Andrea Ammon. “Testing of incoming travelers would be an effective measure if countries achieved sustained control of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. At this point in time, imported cases are likely to contribute little to the ongoing spread of the virus. Therefore, we advise the member states to focus instead on building robust testing capacities for suspected cases, coupled with the isolation of people who test positive, as well as contact tracing and quarantine of contacts in the community.”