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Airlines groan over new protocol, restrictions in UK, U.S., others

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Worried by its devastating impacts on passenger traffic and fighting chances of operators, airlines have expressed fresh concerns over the new safety protocol taking effect in some countries.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), said knee-jerk restrictions were doing more harm to the beleaguered aviation industry and frustrating recovery efforts.

The United States (U.S.) Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tuesday, issued a new order requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving from a foreign country to the United States including its citizens and non-U.S. citizens. This order will become effective on January 26.

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Similarly, British Airways has adjusted its COVID-19 protocol in conformity with the United Kingdom Government’s COVD-19 new regime. Beginning from January 15, all inbound passengers travelling to England will be required to present a negative COVID-19 test result, taken up to 72 hours prior to departure.

Nigeria recently reviewed its travel protocol. The review mandated all inbound passengers to seek and get travel permits from Nigeria before boarding flights coming into the country.

To enforce the protocol more than ever before, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), now fines airlines $3,500 for each passenger that defaults, among other sanctions.

Chief Executive Officer of IATA, representing 280 global airlines, Alexandre de Juniac, said the new restrictions could only make air travel more difficult for all parties, “and that is one of the reasons why the slow pace of progress in the crisis is so frustrating.”

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de Juniac said safety remains a priority for the industry, and they are working tirelessly with governments to keep flying safe and reduce the risk of COVID-19 importation via travel with the implementation of the ICAO CART recommendations proposals to replace quarantine with COVID-19 testing.

“While we still see airlines turning cash positive within the year, the near-term picture is bleak. 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 this approach, we know for sure that the travel and tourism economy will not recover, jobs will continue to disappear, and the lockdown’s toll on people’s mental health will continue to grow—particularly on those who are separated from loved ones.”

The CEO added that a more balanced public policy approach was needed—one that is based on testing as a replacement for quarantines so that the industry could begin addressing the severe side-effects of COVID-19 policies.

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“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.

“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.

“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,” he said.

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