Global standards plea for post vaccine travel

The world’s airline sector has called for the creation of a global vaccination and testing standards in an effort to re-open international travel once the pandemic is under control.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on governments to partner with the air transport industry to devise plans to safely re-link people, business and economies when the COVID-19 epidemiological situation permits.

The organisation’s Director General and CDEO has said that airlines will support governments but structures needed to be put into place.

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccination programs roll out,” said Alexandre de Juniac. “Turning this vision into a safe and orderly re-start will require careful planning and coordination by governments and industry. This will be challenging as the priority for the weeks and months ahead will be containing the spread of new variants. But even as the crisis deepens, it is important to prepare the way for a resumption of flights when the epidemiological situation permits.

“Understanding government policy benchmarks and agreeing the global standards needed to support a return to normality in travel will ensure that air transport is well-prepared and does not become a meaningful vector for reimportation. Airlines are ready to support governments in this task.”

IATA said when governments do turn their attention to re-establishing global air connectivity, it is ready to partner with them to facilitate a globally consistent, efficient and effective approach. “Already we can see some governments evolving principles in their testing/vaccination programs that could form the foundation for global harmonization,” it said.

These include:

  • Vaccinations: Most governments are pursuing a vaccination strategy that seeks to protect their health care workers and most vulnerable populations first. IATA supports re-opening borders to travel when this has been achieved, as the greatest risks will have been mitigated.
  • Vaccinated individuals: The Greek government last week proposed that vaccinated individuals should be immediately exempted from travel restrictions, including quarantine. IATA supports moves by governments, including Poland, Latvia, Lebanon and the Seychelles, to implement this exemption.
  • Testing: Many governments are implementing testing regimes to facilitate travel, which IATA supports. Germany and the US, for example, are taking advantage of the rapid improvement in testing technologies to accept PCR and antigen testing to safely manage the risks of travel. While rapid antigen tests are preferred for their speed and cost advantages, it is clear that PCR testing will play a role as many governments are requiring tests within a 48- to 72-hour window prior to travel.
  • Crew: The ICAO-CART guidance recommends that crew be exempted from testing processes and restrictions that are designed for passengers. IATA supports crew health management protocols which include, for example, regular testing and health checks at home bases, along with strict guidelines limiting interaction with the local community during crew layovers. This enables airlines to manage the risks of COVID-19 while maintaining operational viability.
  • Multi-layered bio-safety measures: The ICAO recommendations for multi-layered bio-safety measures (including mask-wearing) are being globally implemented. IATA supports such measures remaining fully in place for all travellers until such time as the epidemiological situation allows for relaxation.

“There are plenty of moving parts in the equation. The number of people vaccinated, and the availability of testing are key among them. Airlines have adapted their operations in order to maintain cargo operations and some passenger services, while complying with the numerous and uncoordinated restrictions imposed. Building on this experience they can help governments with their preparations for eventually safely re-establishing global connectivity for their people, businesses and economies,” explained Mr de Juniac.

However, underlying all scenarios for the re-establishment of air connectivity is the development of global standards so that the requirements of one country can be followed by travellers originating in other jurisdictions. Key global standards that are being developed include:

  • Vaccination certificates: The WHO is leading efforts to build the standards needed to digitally record vaccination information that will be critical to re-establishing international travel. The Smart Vaccination Certificate will be the digital successor to the long-established “yellow book” used to manage vaccinations such as yellow fever.
  • Global framework for testing: The OECD is laying the foundation for a global framework to help governments trust testing data based on mutual recognition of testing results. The urgency of such a framework was demonstrated by the recent suspension of flights between the UAE and Denmark over concerns about the UAE’s testing regime. A trusted framework will ensure that travellers are not caught in the middle when governments do not recognize each other’s testing regimes. Standardizing the appropriate testing certificates is also essential.
  • Digital Travel Credential (DTC): ICAO has published standards to create a DTC from ePassports. Along with enabling contactless travel as recommended by ICAO-CART guidelines, the credentials are an essential component in digitally matching travellers to their vaccination and testing certificates. The standard exists and the challenge now is implementation.

Mr de Juniac said: “As we have seen, unilateral government decisions are very effective in shutting down global mobility. Re-establishing the freedom to travel, however, can only be done with cooperation. Governments are already seeing how challenging that will be without global standards for vaccines or tests. This puts a spotlight on the urgency of the essential work being done by WHO, OECD and ICAO. IATA is participating in these initiatives and stands ready to help governments with implementation.”

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