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Foreign airlines seek new risk-based guidelines for travel

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Foreign airlines have urged governments to follow new guidelines initiated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to encourage safe travels across borders.

The airlines, under the aegis of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), sought a “risk-based approach” that reduces the emphasis on testing and quarantine.

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Specifically, the new proposal deemphasizes proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a mandatory condition for entry or exit. Relaxes measures such as testing and quarantine requirements for travellers, who are fully vaccinated or have had a confirmed previous COVID-19 infection within the past six months and are no longer infectious.

The recommendation ensures alternative pathways for unvaccinated individuals through testing so that they are able to travel internationally. The WHO recommends rRT-PCR tests, or antigen detection rapid diagnostic tests (Ag-RDTs) followed by confirmatory rRT-PCR tests of positive samples, for this purpose.

Also, the WHO asked airlines to implement tests and quarantine measures for international travellers “on a risk-based manner” with policies on testing and quarantine regularly reviewed to ensure they are lifted when no longer necessary.

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IATA’s Director-General, Willie Walsh, said these “commonsense, risk-based recommendations” from WHO if followed by states will allow for international air travel to resume while minimising the chance of importing COVID-19.

“As WHO notes—and as the latest UK testing data proves—international travellers are not a high-risk group in terms of COVID-19. Out of 1.65 million tests carried out on arriving international passengers in the UK since February, only 1.4 per cent were positive for COVID-19. It’s long past time for governments to incorporate data into risk-based decision-making processes for re-opening borders,” Walsh said.

WHO also called on states to communicate “in a timely and adequate manner”, any changes to international health-related measures and requirements.

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“Consumers face a maze of confusing, uncoordinated and fast-changing border entry rules that discourage them from travelling, causing economic hardship across those employed in the travel and tourism sector. According to our latest passenger survey, 70 per cent of recent travellers thought the rules were a challenge to understand,” said Walsh.

Additionally, WHO encouraged states to look at bilateral, multilateral, and regional agreements, particularly among neighbouring counties, “with the aim of facilitating the recovery of key socioeconomic activities” including tourism, for which international travel plays a vital role.

“The pandemic has put more than 46 million jobs, normally supported by aviation, at risk. By incorporating these latest WHO recommendations into their border opening strategies, states can begin to reverse the economic damage of the past 18 months and put the world on the road to recovery,“ said Walsh.

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