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Airlines urge governments to test aircraft wastewater, not passengers for COVID-19

By Wole Oyebade
06 January 2023   |   5:33 am
World airlines, yesterday, lamented the European Union’s (EU) joint imposition of a negative COVID-19 test result for passengers travelling between China and the EU.


•EU adopts pre-departure testing of passengers from China

World airlines, yesterday, lamented the European Union’s (EU) joint imposition of a negative COVID-19 test result for passengers travelling between China and the EU.

The airlines, under the coalition of Airlines for Europe (A4E), International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, decried the preventive measures as unscientific, while testing of airport and aircraft wastewater offers better evidence.

Earlier, the EU had recommended that all passengers on flights to and from China should wear face masks, that EU governments introduce random testing of passengers arriving from China and that they test and sequence wastewater in airports with international flights and planes arriving from China.

Besides the EU, over 16 countries have made pre-boarding COVID-19 testing mandatory for passengers coming from China. The airlines yesterday said such blanket testing of passengers is at odds with the assessment published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which confirms that the current surge of COVID-19 cases in China is not expected to impact the epidemiological situation in the EU.

“This is because the COVID-19 variants circulating in China are already present in the EU, as well as the higher immunity acquired by the population of the EU. As such, systematically testing incoming travellers from China cannot be considered a scientifically driven and risk-based measure,” coalition stated.

IATA Director-General, Willie Walsh, said that A4E, ACI Europe and IATA support getting away from testing passengers as a way to track COVID-19.

“In this regard, the recommendation to test wastewater from airports and aircraft arriving from China offers an alternative. This must, however, come with detailed consideration of technical and operational practicalities before any decision is taken to deploy wastewater sampling at airports and aircraft.

“When required, airports and airlines will do their utmost to facilitate such sampling – on the understanding that it needs to be carried out by the competent health authorities, as airport and airline staff are not qualified to do so,” Walsh said.

He added that while it is regrettable that the EU’s recommendations largely amount to a knee-jerk reaction, it is now vital that they are implemented by EU member states in a fully uniform manner – in full compliance with the addendums to the EU Aviation Health Safety Protocol to be published in the coming days by EASA and ECDC. These addendums will provide detailed guidance regarding passenger testing and wastewater testing.

“A4E, ACI Europe and IATA look forward to further engaging with the EU on the reassessment of these recommendations by mid-January 2023. We urge EU member states and China to work together and to reconsider at the earliest opportunity their requirements for systematic pre-departure testing of travellers based on a scientifically driven risk assessment,” Walsh said.