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Confusion in air travel over varying COVID-19 protocols

By Wole Oyebade
17 September 2021   |   4:21 am
Varying travel protocols that were put in place by some countries have thrown international travellers into confusion. The safety protocols, as part of measures to slow the spread of COVID-19....

FILE PHOTO: A health worker checks the temperature of a traveller as part of the coronavirus screening procedure Airport. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko/File Photo – RC2EUE9X5YKK

Varying travel protocols that were put in place by some countries have thrown international travellers into confusion.
The safety protocols, as part of measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections, are in conflict from one country to another, especially in Europe.

While some countries are getting silent on some COVID-19 requirements for outbound travellers, others insist on the same protocols for inbound travellers, with transit passengers caught in-between.

Most affected by the confusion is the European Union, where the requirements vary from one country to the other. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), yesterday, warned that free movement within Europe was being compromised by the failure of EU member states to harmonise COVID-19 entry regulations.

IATA’s research has found significant differences in how EU member states are managing travel. Around 30 per cent of states using the EU Digital COVID-19 Certificate (DCC) are not accepting rapid testing. 19 per cent of states are not exempting children from testing requirements, while 41 per cent of states are not allowing vaccinated travellers from non-EU ‘White-List’ countries to enter.

For the Passenger Locator Forms, 45 per cent accept it online, while 33 per cent accept paper and online submissions. But 11 per cent only accept paper, and a further 11 per cent have no locator forms at all.

IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, said it is essential that countries come together on COVID-19 travel procedures.

“In Europe, the good work done by the Commission and the states to develop the DCC is being wasted by a mess of unharmonised regulations. How can passengers travel with confidence when the rules are so different in each country within the European Union?

“They can’t be sure if their children need to be tested or not, or if they need to fill in a form on paper, online, or not at all. It is one European Union. People reasonably expect a united approach to managing travel,” Schvartzman said.

Specifically, with regard to harmonising requirements around the DCC, IATA and other stakeholders have urged countries and regional blocs to conduct DCC verification digitally before passengers arrive at the airport, to limit operational disruptions and give certainty to passengers that they are ready to fly. Germany and Spain are two countries observing best practice in this area.

Also, stakeholders have asked countries to develop a state portal to facilitate DCC verification directly by national authorities and limit health data processing by airlines, while also integrating digital Passenger Locator Forms into a state portal for DCC verification, which is not currently the case in 80 per cent of European countries.

In addition, EU states need to align on health requirements including: Universal acceptance of rapid testing in place of expensive and unnecessary PCR tests. Universal exemption of minors from testing and vaccination requirements; and the universal opening of borders to vaccinated passengers and to allow travelers from low-risk countries to enter Europe without restriction (or with proof of a negative test from non-vaccinated travelers). The Netherlands, Estonia, Slovenia and Spain are leading the way in aligning these policies.

“The experience over the European summer shows that a standard digital certificate is not enough: the travel processes around COVID-19 must also be harmonised and smoothed out. We urge European states to sort out the current mess and give hard-pressed passengers greater certainty over their travel plans,” said Schvartzman.