Inconsistent application of these biosafety measures hindering resumption of air travel
IATA has called on governments in the Middle East to harmonize biosafety measures for passengers across the region as aviation restarts.
However, inconsistent application of these biosafety measures along with unnecessary border constraints are deterring passengers and suppressing the resumption of air travel in the Middle East.
Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East said: “We are starting to see some governments in the Middle East open their borders to regional and international air travel.
"This is good news but those flying for the first time since the lifting of restrictions face an array of different types of biosafety measures and procedures – which is causing confusion among passengers and delaying the recovery,”
There are three main areas where more harmonization is required:
Testing: COVID-19 testing can play a role in the overall multi-layered approach to restarting aviation. It is a preferred alternative to quarantine measures which essentially keep a country in isolation and its tourism economy in lockdown.
However, for COVID-19 testing to be a useful biosafety measure needs to be fast, scalable, cost-effective and carried out prior to travel.
A number of countries in the Middle East have implemented testing, but in many cases these do not meet the criteria outline by IATA.
Additionally, the disparity of testing requirements among countries along with the difference in costs is causing confusion for passengers. In some cases, both a departure and arrival test are required, in some cases costing in excess of US$150.
Quarantine: IATA urges governments to avoid quarantine measures when re-opening their economies. As an alternative IATA is promoting a layered approach of measures to reduce the risk of countries importing COVID-19 via air travel and to mitigate the possibility of transmission in cases where people may travel while unknowingly being infected.
Nevertheless, 28 countries in the Middle East have government-imposed quarantine measures in place. With over 80% of passengers unwilling to travel when quarantine is required, the impact of these measures is that countries remain in lockdown even if their borders are open.
Contact Tracing: Reliable contact tracing is the strongest back-up should a passenger be detected as infected after arrival. Rapid identification and isolation of contacts contains the risk without large-scale economic or social disruption.
While the industry is advocating the use of contactless travel options to reduce the number of physical touchpoints, some states have mandated paper-based forms to collect travelers’ contact information.
Airlines have been required to distribute and collect the forms. Furthermore, acting on written information on paper forms may be challenging and resource-intensive, especially when it comes to efficiently tracing individuals who might pose a risk or be at risk.
Albakri said: "We urge governments to develop web portals dedicated to collect passenger health data. This is the safest, most robust and efficient solution for passengers to provide necessary data to authorities during the COVID-19 crisis and in the future.”