Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lobby Group Proposes Layered Approach to Resuming Air Travel Safely

IATA Says Quarantine is a Lop Sided Solution
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – With news today that Australian airline Qantas is to lay off thousands of staff, whilst on the other side of the world German carrier Lufthansa saw its largest shareholder acquiesce to the government offer to bail out the firm for a 20% equity stake for stock bought at a knock down price, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has its own ideas how to help mitigate the crisis.

Although the latest IATA pronouncements are aimed at passenger carriage, the bulk of air freight is of course carried on board those flights as belly hold cargo. Rates for consignments around the globe have seen a sharp rise since the start of the crisis. IATA is urging governments to avoid quarantine measures when re-opening their economies and promoting a layered approach of measures to reduce the risk of countries importing Covid-19 via air travel and to mitigate the possibility of transmission in cases where people may travel while unknowingly being infected.

Some of the measures IATA promotes are to have airlines offer flexible, adjustable booking so symptomatic travellers are more likely to stay put when they may be ill or recently exposed. Governments should insist on digital health declarations obtained by screening. Whilst temperature checks before take-off are not the most effective screening method, they too shore-up passenger confidence as well as acting as a deterrent to travel when unwell.

When accepting travellers from countries where the rate of new infections is significantly higher, the arrival authority could consider Covid-19 testing. It is recommended that tests are undertaken prior to arrival at the departure airport (so as not to add to airport congestion and avoid the potential for contagion in the travel process) with documentation to prove a negative result. Testing should be for active virus (polymerase chain reaction or PCR) rather than for antibodies or antigens.

The above refers to reducing the risk of importing the disease but IATA also asks the authorities to consider the best way to mitigate risk when an infected person may be travelling. It says the universal implementation of the Take-Off guidelines published by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) should be mandatory. The comprehensive Take-Off guidelines are closely aligned with the recommendations of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These include mask wearing throughout the travel process, sanitisation, health declarations and social distancing where possible.

Contact tracing also needs to be in place in every country as a back-up measure should someone be detected as infected after arrival. Somewhat worrying was the news this morning that the French tracing system so far had only 68 people registered with only 14 warned to self-isolate. On arrival social changes need to be made to mitigate risk and IATA says the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Safe Travel protocols provide a pragmatic approach for the hospitality sector to enable safe tourism and restore traveller confidence.

WTTC estimates that travel and tourism accounts for 10.3% of global GDP and 300 million jobs globally (direct, indirect and induced economic impact) and recent public opinion research revealed that 83% of travellers would not even consider travelling if quarantine measures were imposed on travellers at their destination. Countries imposing quarantine saw arrivals decrease by more than 90%, an outcome that is similar to countries that banned foreign arrivals. Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO said:

“Imposing quarantine measures on arriving travellers keeps countries in isolation and the travel and tourism sector in lockdown. 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 jumpstarting national economies. We are proposing a framework with layers of protection to keep sick people from travelling and to mitigate the risk of transmission should a traveller discover they were infected after arrival.

“Safely restarting the economy is a priority. 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. Airlines are already offering flexibility so there is no incentive for sick or at-risk people to travel. Health declarations, screening and testing by governments will add extra layers of protection. And if someone travels while infected, we can reduce the risk of transmission with protocols to prevent the spread during travel or when at destination.

”And effective contact tracing can isolate those most at risk without major disruptions. 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. Quarantine is a lop-sided solution that protects one and absolutely fails at the other. We need government leadership to deliver a balanced protection.”

Photo: Qantas is to axe 6,000 jobs due to the pandemic (Image courtesy of Qantas).