Vaccination requirement should not be mandatory for global travel, Iata says

Aviation body urges countries to follow World Health Organisation guidelines on international arrivals

Countries should follow a 'risk-based approach' as recommended by the World Health Organisation while implementing Covid-19 related measures in international travel, according to International Air Transport Association. Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters
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Countries are being urged to drop the requirement for proof of Covid-19 vaccination as a mandatory condition for global travel by the International Air Transport Association, in line with new guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation.

The aviation watchdog on Thursday called on states to follow new guidance on travel from the WHO, which said travellers should be exempt from showing proof of Covid-19 vaccination for entry or exit. It also recommends removing measures such as quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers or those that have been infected with the coronavirus within the past six months.

The move is aimed at helping more people travel as countries reopen borders. Governments should follow a “risk-based approach” as recommended by the WHO while implementing Covid-19 related measures, the aviation body said in a statement.

For unvaccinated passengers, real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) tests or antigen detection rapid diagnostic tests should be used to prevent the spread of the infection, Iata said, citing WHO guidelines.

“These common sense, risk-based recommendations from WHO, if followed by states, will allow for international air travel to resume while minimising the chance of importing Covid-19,” Willie Walsh, Iata’s director-general, said in a statement. “As WHO notes and as the latest UK testing data proves, international travellers are not a high-risk group in terms of Covid-19.”

Out of 1.65 million tests carried out on arriving international passengers in the UK since February, only 1.4 per cent were positive for Covid-19, he added.

The pandemic has hit the aviation sector particularly hard, but demand is beginning to recover due to the increased pace of vaccine distribution in many countries.

Iata expects the outlook for global airlines to improve during the second half of the year. Total air passenger numbers in 2021 will be 52 per cent lower than they were in 2019, before bouncing back in 2022 to 88 per cent of their pre-crisis levels and exceeding pre-pandemic levels (105 per cent) in 2023.

“The pandemic has put more than 46 million jobs, normally supported by aviation, at risk. By incorporating these latest WHO recommendations into their border-opening strategies, states can begin to reverse the economic damage of the past 18 months and put the world on the road to recovery,” Mr Walsh said.

The Geneva-based aviation trade body is continuing to develop its Iata Travel Pass mobile app to help travellers store information pertaining to testing and Covid-19 vaccination. Emirates airline last month said it plans to use the mobile app on all routes across its global network in the coming weeks. Etihad has also run trials of the app on routes from Abu Dhabi to the US and Canada.

Tax not the answer

Separately, Iata on Thursday criticised the European Union’s “Fit for 55” proposal to tax the aviation industry for emissions. The plan, unveiled earlier this week, aims to reduce the EU’s carbon emissions by 55 per cent compared with 1990 levels by 2030.

Iata said that the EU policy needs to support practical emissions reduction measures such as incentives for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF), which reduce emissions by up to 80 per cent compared to traditional jet fuel to help protect the environment.

“We should all be worried that the EU’s big idea to decarbonise aviation is making jet fuel more expensive through tax,” Mr Walsh said. “Incentivising SAF will improve energy independence and create sustainable jobs.”

Updated: July 15, 2021, 12:46 PM