Covid risks during air travel can be mitigated by correct screening strategies, Iata says

Aviation body is teaming up with Airbus and Boeing to highlight potential methodologies to manage Covid-19 risks during travel

International Air Transport Association expects the outlook for global airlines to brighten in the second half of the year. Reuters
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The risk of contracting coronavirus during air travel can be mitigated by choosing the correct screening strategies, airline industry experts said on Wednesday.

Governments need to make data-driven decisions to manage the risks of Covid-19 when reopening borders to international travel, they added during an online media briefing hosted by International Air Transport Association.

“Data can and should drive policies on restarting global travel that manage Covid-19 risks to protect populations, revive livelihoods and boost economies,” Willie Walsh, Iata’s director-general, said.

“We call on the G7 governments meeting later this month to agree on the use of data to safely plan and co-ordinate the return of the freedom to travel which is so important to people, livelihoods and businesses.”

The Covid-19 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 across the world. However, the travel industry has been vocal about the impact that mandatory quarantine would have on travel demand.

Iata expects the outlook for global airlines to brighten 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.

Presenting the data from the UK National Health Service regarding international travellers arriving in the UK, Iata said "that the vast majority of travellers pose no Covid-19 risk".
Between February 25 and May 5, 365,895 tests were conducted on inbound passengers to the UK but only 2.2 per cent tested positive for Covid-19 infection during quarantine after their arrival. Of these, over half were from the "red list" countries, which were considered to be very high risk, the organisation said.

“Many governments continue to require universal quarantine - either hotel-managed or self-managed. This impedes the freedom of movement, discourages international travel and destroys employment in the travel and tourism sector,” Mr Walsh said.

“Data from the UK tells us that we can and must do better. Almost 98 per cent of those detained because of universal quarantine measures tested negative for the virus. We now have more than a year of global data that can help governments make more targeted decisions on international travel.”

Iata teamed up with Airbus and Boeing to highlight potential methodologies to manage the risks of Covid-19 to keep travellers safe while restarting global connectivity.

Airbus considered more than 50 variables such as the number of confirmed cases and fatalities per country, Covid-19 testing strategies, traffic statistics, flight length, time spent in airport terminals, provision of on-board catering and air conditioning in its model.

“The Airbus model, designed to support government stakeholders to reopen air travel, demonstrates that the risk of virus transmission and translocation can be significantly reduced by adopting data-driven screening and protection measures,” the Iata said.

Boeing's modelling and analysis, on the other hand, "shows screening protocols offer an alternative to mandatory quarantines for many travel scenarios”, it added.

"With this modeling, we are demonstrating that we can be smart with calibrated travel policies that address the risks, enable travel and protect people," Mr Walsh said.