Make It Simple

Wildly inconsistent COVID-19 travel restrictions are stalling the recovery of air transport and IATA is urging governments to put an end to those restrictions by implementing simplified regimes to manage the risks of COVID-19 as borders re-open to international travel.

Willie Walsh, director general of IATA, said that: “Travel restrictions bought governments time to respond in the early days of the pandemic. Nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists. COVID-19 is present in all parts of the world. Travel restrictions are a complex and confusing web of rules with very little consistency among them. And there is little evidence to support ongoing border restrictions and the economic havoc they create.”

The industry association points out that testing results for UK arriving passengers demonstrate that travellers are not adding risk to the local population.

Said Walsh: “Of the three million arrivals between February and August only 42,000 tested positive — or fewer than 250 a day. Meanwhile, the daily case count in the UK is 35,000 and the economy — apart from international travel — is wide open. People should be just as free to travel,” said Walsh.

In the last months, several key markets that had previously been closed have taken steps to open to vaccinated travellers. Among markets that were previously closed, Europe was an early mover, followed by Canada, the UK, the US and Singapore. Even Australia, which has some of the most draconian restrictions, is taking steps to re-open its borders to vaccinated travellers by November.

IATA supports these moves and encourages all governments to consider the following framework for re-opening borders:

  • Vaccines should be made available to all as quickly as possible
  • Vaccinated travellers should not face any barriers to travel
  • Testing should enable those without access to vaccines to travel without quarantine
  • Antigen tests are the key to cost-effective and convenient testing regimes, and
  • Governments should pay for testing, so it does not become an economic barrier to travel

A recent survey of the top 50 travel markets, accounting for 92% of global traffic, reveals an urgent need for simplification of the various measures governments are using to manage the risks of COVID-19.

Walsh points out: “There is far too much complexity in the way borders are re-opening. The potential for a global re-connect could be hijacked by bureaucracies favoring stand-alone “made-at-home” solutions over approaches that work across borders.”

The survey findings include the following:

Very few states are truly open — Of the 50 states surveyed, 38 have some form of COVID-19 restriction on who can enter. Only seven had no entry restrictions or quarantine requirements upon arrival. A further five have no additional restriction on who can enter but maintain quarantine measures for some after arrival.

There is no consistency among the 38 states which retain entry restrictions –20 states exempt or foresee exemptions from restrictions in various forms for vaccinated travellers, but:

  • Only six are confirmed to exempt minors (who are unable to be vaccinated in most markets) when they travel with vaccinated adults. And there is no consistency on the age definition of minors.
  • Nine states do not recognize the full WHO list of vaccines
  • There are at least five different definitions for the point after inoculation at which vaccines are considered to be effective
  • There is no agreement on the duration of the validity period for a traveller to be considered vaccinated

Only four states (Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria) recognize immunity resulting from previous COVID-19 infection as equivalent to vaccination

  • There is no consistency on what is needed to prove prior infection

There are complex conditions imposed by the 46 states requiring pre-departure testing:

  • 24 only accept PCR testing
  • 16 recognize antigen tests (of which three require PCR in certain circumstances)
  • 18 states exempt vaccinated travellers from testing
  • 20 states provide exemptions from testing requirements for recovered COVID-19 travellers, but under differing conditions and with equally little consistency on how to prove prior infection
  • 33 states exempt minors from testing, but with no consistency on the age and, in some cases, differing rules if the minor is accompanied by a vaccinated adult
  • Testing time-window varies broadly, including specifications by test type

Said Walsh: “The situation is a mess. It’s stalling recovery. Complete harmonization is unlikely. But some simple best practices that travellers can comprehend should be achievable.”

IATA also makes it clear that COVID-19 measures must not be allowed to become permanent, with Walsh stating that: “Measures must remain in place only for as long as they are needed—and not a day longer. As we do with many safety regulations, defined review periods are needed. Otherwise, as we said in the aftermath of 9/11, well-intentioned measures could remain in place long after they are necessary, or have become technologically or scientifically obsolete.”

Safely re-opening borders is on the agenda of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) High Level Conference (HLCC) on COVID-19.

For IATA’s director general: “The most important result that the ICAO HLCC could achieve is bringing commitment from states to reduce the evolving complexity. The second most important achievement would be recognition that we must return to normal and the production of harmonized guidance on how to do so, including the sunsetting of measures.”

IATA also argues that it is clear that digital health credentials — documentation of vaccination or testing status — will be needed as borders re-open. Experience even at today’s low levels of travel tells us that there will be chaos in airports if we rely on paper processes.

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