IATA has called for passengers to be tested for
COVID19 as an alternative to quarantine.
With international travel down 92% on 2019 levels,
IATA sees testing as a way to
re-establish global air connectivity.
“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility
across borders is systematic COVID19 testing of all travelers
before departure,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
“This will give governments the confidence to open their borders
without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the
rules imposed on travel. Testing all passengers will give people
back their freedom to travel with confidence. And that will put
millions of people back to work.”
Whilst testing is an option, it won't be easy
persuading countries that testing is more effective, economical or
easier to manage than quarantine. It is widely accepted that it can take up to 14
days from the time of exposure to COVID19 for any symptoms to show
and for a test to be positive. By having a quarantine in place,
countries are trying to protect their population and health system
by ensuring that the virus does not have a chance to spread within
the community undiscovered. However, each country enforces its
quarantine regulations differently.
Thailand, a country which has been praised by the
WHO for its success in battling the spread of COVID19, has a
compulsory 14-day quarantine in place for anyone flying into the
country. The quarantine involves two tests, one towards the
beginning of the quarantine and the other towards the end of the
14 days. Travellers flying to Thailand are also supposed to get a
certificate showing that they are free of COVID19 before they get
on the plane. And whilst many COVID19 cases have been discovered in the first test, a
considerable number of carriers have only been discovered on the
second test. This also raises the question of how efficient
pre-departure tests or certificates are, and whether a nation can
rely on them.
Unlike Thailand, the United Kingdom has a
constantly evolving and porous 14-day quarantine system in place which
exempts many professions, relies on the individual being honest
and doing the self-isolation as outlined, only covers
countries that are deemed high risk by the UK government, and can
be different if you are landing in Scotland, Wales or England.
In a press conference in July, Dr. Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said, "No country can get
control of its epidemic if it doesn’t know where the virus is. As
we have said many times, so-called lockdown measures can help to
reduce transmission, but they cannot completely stop it. Contact
tracing is essential for finding and isolating cases and
identifying and quarantining their contacts ... Contact tracing is
essential for every country, in every situation. It can prevent
individual cases from becoming clusters, and clusters turning into
community transmission. Even countries with community transmission
can make progress by breaking down their epidemics into manageable
parts. This is all the more critical as countries are opening up
... With strong leadership, community engagement, and a
comprehensive strategy to suppress transmission and save lives,
COVID19 can be stopped. We do not have to wait for a vaccine. We
have to save lives now."
Many airlines have now started offering a
COVID19 insurance to passengers designed to build confidence and
reduce anxiety amongst travellers. Some have also negotiated
discounts for customers to get tested if the destination they are
flying to needs a certificate.
IATA has said that it does not see COVID19 testing becoming a
permanent fixture in the air travel experience, but it will likely
be needed in the medium-term for air travel to re-establish
“Many see the development of a vaccine as the panacea for
the pandemic. It will certainly be an important step, but even
after an effective vaccine is globally recognized, ramping up
production and distribution is likely to take many months. Testing
will be a much-needed interim solution,” said de Juniac.