IATA Calls for Data-driven Covid Mitigation Measures for Travel

 - June 2, 2021, 12:28 PM
Boeing's modeling chart shows the risk of Covid introduction from high- to medium-prevalence countries depending on which mitigation measures are adopted. (Image: Boeing)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on government leaders attending the G7 summit June 11 to 13 in the UK to adopt a so-called data-driven approach to decisions regarding the lifting of travel restrictions between countries. During an IATA-hosted briefing on Wednesday featuring researchers from Boeing and Airbus, association director general Willie Walsh stressed the need to base decisions on epidemiological risk assessments rather than political considerations.

“Data can and should drive policies on restarting global travel that manage Covid-19 risks to protect populations, revive livelihoods, and boost economies,” said Walsh. “We call on the G7 governments meeting later this month to agree on the use of data to safely plan and coordinate the return of the freedom to travel which is so important to people, livelihoods, and businesses.”

Walsh also reiterated IATA’s position that creating barriers for unvaccinated people would result in an “unacceptable conclusion.” Data from the UK National Health Service on international travelers arriving in the UK shows the vast majority of travelers post no risk of introducing Covid-19 cases, regardless of vaccination status, according to IATA.

The data shows that of all passengers arriving to the UK between February 25 and May 5, only 2.2 percent tested positive for Covid-19 infection during universal quarantine measures after their arrival. Of those, more than half came from “red list” countries considered very high risk. Removing them from the statistics would result in a positive test rate of 1.46 percent, according to IATA.

“Many governments continue to require universal quarantine—either hotel-managed or self-managed,” added Walsh. “This impedes the freedom of movement, discourages international travel, and destroys employment in the travel and tourism sector.”

Airbus modeling based on more than a dozen data sources, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, considered low-, medium-, and high-risk international travel scenarios. In the high- to medium-risk case, namely Latin America/Caribbean (292 cases per 100,000 population) to Canada (95 cases per 100,000), Airbus found that the local incidence in Canada would increase by barely over one case due to imported cases over 14 days. The Airbus models showed even less risk of Covid introduction from travel from Europe to the U.S. and Singapore without any testing.

Boeing modeling shows that screening protocols offer an alternative to mandatory quarantines in many travel scenarios. The Boeing data concludes that screening protocols proved as effective as 14-day quarantines, that such protocols lower the risk to the destination country, and that screening proved most beneficial for travel from higher- to lower-prevalence regions.

Notwithstanding Walsh’s calls for a common standard in the European Union, IATA conceded the need for differing measures by different countries.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to manage the various levels of risk,” said Walsh. “The economic and social cost of the blanket measures taken by most governments to date has been unnecessarily high. With this modeling, we are demonstrating that we can be smart with calibrated travel policies that address the risks, enable travel, and protect people. Everybody can respect a data-driven decision. That is the way back to normality.”