The world’s airlines have called in the G7 leaders to use data to open the world’s borders and access the risk management expertise in the private sector to do so.
As the G7 prepared to meet in Cornwall next week the International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to make data-driven decisions to manage the risks of COVID-19 when reopening borders to international travel.
The association’s Director General has said the strategies without quarantine measures can enable international travel to restart with a low risk of introduction of COVID-19 to the travel destination.
Willie Walsh added that governments needed to treat COVID as a risk that could and should be managed accessing risk management expertise in order to do so.
“COVID-19 is something that we need to learn to manage, like we do other risks to health,” said. “We accept many things in society that we know come with risks—from consuming alcoholic beverages to how we drive. We don’t ban these activities.
“We have some common-sense rules and the information needed to make sensible decisions about how to manage these risks. The post-pandemic future means doing the same for COVID-19 so we can all get on with our lives. There is no completely risk-free protocol. Vaccination will play a big role. And the data we have tells us that screening and testing protocols can make travel safely accessible for all.”
Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine added: “Government policies are naturally risk averse. By contrast, the private sector has great experience in managing risks every day to deliver its products and services.
“COVID-19 now appears to be becoming endemic. This means that COVID-19 is not likely to disappear anytime soon, so governments and industry must work together to rebuild global connectivity while managing the associated risks.
“The first step is for governments to evaluate the threshold of risk of virus introduction that they can effectively manage. Then they need to identify with industry feasible strategies to enable an increase in international travel without exceeding those thresholds. Now we need more intense and transparent dialogue between governments and the airline industry to move from models to policy and ultimately facilitate international travel.”
IATA said the available evidence continues to show that vaccination protects travellers from serious illness and death and carries a low risk of introducing the virus into destination countries.
“The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) concluded that vaccinated travellers are no longer significant in the spread of the disease and do not pose a major risk to the German population,” it said in a statement. “The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) issued interim guidance on the benefits of full vaccination stating that ‘the likelihood of an infected vaccinated person transmitting the disease is currently assessed to be very low to low.”
the association added in the US the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) stated that “with a 90% effective vaccine, pre-travel testing, post-travel testing, and 7-day self-quarantine provide minimal additional benefit,” while the Canadian Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel recommends that vaccinated travellers do not need to be quarantined.
“A challenge is the potential of barriers to travel for unvaccinated people which would create an unacceptable exclusion,” added IATA. “Data from the UK NHS regarding international travellers arriving in the UK (with no reference to vaccination status) shows that the vast majority of travellers pose no risk for the introduction of COVID-19 cases after arrival.”
“Data can and should drive policies on restarting global travel that manage COVID-19 risks to protect populations, revive livelihoods and boost economies,” explained 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.”
“Many governments continue to require universal quarantine—either hotel-managed or self-managed. This impedes the freedom of movement, discourages international travel and destroys employment in the travel and tourism sector. Data from the UK tells us that we can and must do better.”
IATA has collaborated with aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing to develop data-driven risk-management models to understand the impact of various options.
The Airbus model—designed to support government stakeholders to reopen air travel—demonstrates that the risk of virus transmission and translocation can be significantly reduced by adopting data-driven screening and protection measures.
Boeing’s modelling and analysis showed screening protocols offer an alternative to mandatory quarantines for many travel scenarios. The model evaluated the effectiveness of passenger screenings and quarantines in countries around the world. It accounted for various factors including COVID-19 prevalence rates between origin and destination countries, the efficacy of PCR and rapid antigen tests, and the disease timeline (how the disease progresses) for passengers traveling with COVID-19.
It found there are screening protocols as effective as a 14-day quarantine. Screening protocols lower the risk to the destination country, with screening is most beneficial for travel from higher to lower prevalence areas.
Walsh concluded: “Almost 98% of those detained because of universal quarantine measures tested negative for the virus. We now have more than a year of global data that can help governments make more targeted decisions on international travel. This can keep the risk of importing COVID-19 cases low—including variants of concern—while restarting international travel with minimal infringement on the ability to live normal work and social lives. Importantly, lives that include travel.”