Air industry executives are calling on governments to simplify measures used to manage the risk of Covid-19, after a recent survey found inconsistent regulations are delaying the sector’s recovery process.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently presented a survey of the leading 50 travel markets, accounting for 92 percent of global traffic, which reveals travel restrictions used at the start of the pandemic are no longer relevant.
“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,” said Willie Walsh, IATA director general.
IATA is now calling for an end to the patchwork of travel regulations, urging governments to implement simplified schemes in attempt to reopen to international travel.
Vaccines must be available to all
The association is calling on policymakers to consider making vaccines available to all as quickly as possible; allowing vaccinated travelers to travel hassle-free; introduce testing for those without access to vaccines so as to facilitate quarantine-free travel; introducing antigen tests; and cover costs of testing so that it does not become an economic barrier to travel.
“There is far too much complexity in the way borders are reopening. The potential for a global reconnect could be hijacked by bureaucracies favoring stand-alone ‘made-at-home’ solutions over approaches that work across borders,” he added.
A closer look at the IATA survey reveals: that very few states are truly open: of the 50 states polled, 38 have some form of Covid restriction in place for country admission.
There is no consistency among the 38 states which retain entry restrictions. Only six are confirmed to exempt minors when they travel with vaccinated adults with no consistency on age definition of minors. Nine states do not recognize the full WHO list of vaccines.
The survey also found that there are currently at least five different definitions for the point after inoculation at which vaccines are effective.
Additionally, there is no agreement on the duration of the validity period for a traveler to be considered vaccinated. Only four countries – Germany, France, Switzerland, and Austria – recognize immunity resulting from previous Covid-19 infection as equivalent to vaccination.
Unclear rules on pre-departure testing
IATA also points to problems created for travelers due to unclear rules imposed by the 46 countries requiring pre-departure testing. Indicatively, only 24 accept PCR testing; 16 recognize antigen tests; 18 exempt vaccinated travelers from testing; 20 provide exemptions from testing requirements for recovered Covid-19 travelers, but under differing conditions; 33 exempt minors from testing; testing time-window varies broadly.
“The situation is a mess. It’s stalling recovery. Complete harmonization is unlikely. But some simple best practices that travelers can comprehend should be achievable,” said Walsh.
Walsh concludes that digital health credentials will be needed as borders reopen, acknowledging the EU for its EU Digital COVID Certificate, which he says is “a good start”.
“An automated solution is essential for airlines. They will need to manage documentation verification using automated check-ins. If not, airport wait times and congestion will skyrocket as travel volumes increase,” said Walsh.
Safely reopening borders and facilitating global travel is on the agenda of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) high level conference (HLCC) on Covid-19 to be held virtually on October 12-22 and expected to lay out the next steps in the industry’s efforts to recover.