Iata chief urges Covid testing to replace ‘tunnel-vision’ of quarantines

The UK is among governments accused by the head of Iata of a “knee-jerk” reaction to the new Covid-19 strain – leaving the travel sector struggling to recover.

The airline trade body’s director general Alexandre de Juniac warned that the near-term picture is “bleak” for the industry, despite projecting that carriers will turn cash positive within the year.

Warning that industry’s situation is still “perilous,” de Juniac insisted: “We are working tirelessly with governments to keep flying safe and reduce the risk of Covid-19 importation via travel with the implementation of ICAO recommendations proposals to replace quarantine with Covid-19 testing.”

He said: “Instead of a boost from the year-end holiday period, we got even more restrictions. Governments tightened borders in a knee-jerk response to a virus mutation.

“Canada, UK, Germany, Japan and others added testing to their Covid-19 measures without removing quarantine requirements. In other words, they have chosen policy measures that will shut down travel.

“This approach tells us that these governments are not interested in managing a balanced approach to the risks of Covid-19.

“They appear to be aiming for a zero-Covid world. This is an impossible task that comes with severe consequences – the full extent of which it would be impossible to calculate.”

But with the current approach, “we know for sure” that:

  • The travel and tourism economy will not recover.
  • Jobs will continue to disappear.
  • The lockdown’s toll on people’s mental health will continue to grow, particularly on those who are separated from loved ones.

The Iata chief called for a more balanced public policy approach to the pandemic based on testing as a replacement for quarantines “so that we can begin addressing the severe side-effects of Covid-19 policies”.

“Science tells us that travellers will not be a significant factor in community transmission if testing is used effectively.

“But most governments have tunnel-vision on quarantine and are not at all focused on finding ways to safely re-open borders – or alleviate the self-imposed economic and mental health hardships of the lockdowns.

“There was some good news over the holidays. We continued to prepare for the day that governments are ready to open borders—with testing or with vaccinations.

“The first pilot of the Iata Travel Pass app was launched in partnership with Singapore Airlines on routes to Kuala Lumpur and to Jakarta.

“We are still on track for a full rollout of the app during the first quarter of this year.”

He repeated a quote from UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, emphasising the urgent need to re-start flying by saying that: “Aviation is an important engine of our world and will play a critical role in lifting the world to recovery from COVID-19. Let us ensure it receives the support it needs to keep the world’s nations connected and united.”

De Juniac added: ”The support starts with consistent, well-reasoned, scientifically supported policies to manage the risks of Covid-19 and travel.

“That is the antithesis of what we witnessed over the holiday period. Our top priority for 2021 is to change that.”

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