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IATA calls for covid-19 testing before departure

IATA has called for passengers to be tested for COVID19 as an alternative to quarantine. With international travel down 92 per cent on 2019 levels, IATA sees testing as a way to re-establish global air connectivity.

Alexandre de Juniac, Director General and CEO, IATA said, “The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID19 testing of all travellers before departure. 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 COVID19 has been discovered in the first test, a considerable number of carriers have only been discovered on the second test.

Unlike Thailand, the United Kingdom has a constantly evolving and porous quarantine system in place which exempts many professions, relies on the individual being honest and doing the self-isolation as outlined, and only covers countries that are deemed high risk by the UK government.

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 itself.

de Juniac said, “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.”

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