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Airlines urge caution over vaccine passport protocol, high cost of travel

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Ahead of the summer travel season, international airlines have urged caution against mandatory vaccine passport requirements as a condition of entry into countries.

The airlines, all members of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said curtailing freedom of movement on account of vaccination status would further hurt air travel recovery as “crucial” summer travel beckons.

As an alternative, they recommended COVID-19 test as the standard protocol, and urged governments to take responsibility for the cost to lighten the airfare burden on air travellers.

The Guardian reported recently that more countries, airlines and destinations have endorsed COVID-19 vaccine passport regime. The endorsement, currently pushed as a global agenda, is touted to impact air travel as it mounts fresh hurdles for the travelling public.

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The vaccine passport – in the form of certificates or digital cards testifying to the low-risk status of their holders – promises to reopen the world and perhaps return lives to normal. But its subtle compulsory vaccination for all air travellers raises fundamental questions of a more divided and discriminatory world.

Though not averse to vaccination and IATA Travel Pass, the airlines urged states to comply with recommendations on international travel from the World Health Organisation’s International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee on testing and risk management during the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 290 IATA-member airlines were unanimous that the freedom to travel across borders should not be limited to those who are able to be vaccinated. They, however, support governments opening borders to those who have been vaccinated and that testing should also play a key role where vaccination is not possible. Together—testing and vaccination—are key measures for states to safely reopen their borders and restore freedom of movement while managing the public health risks of COVID-19.

IATA strongly supports risk-based measures to safely manage international travel. Most scientists believe that COVID-19 will become endemic and that society will need to learn to live with the virus.

The air transport industry manages multiple risks — technical, natural, and geopolitical, among others — to maintain safe operations. In line with this recommendation, IATA continues to call on governments to work with the industry to establish plans to safely reconnect their people and economies via air transport based on clear benchmarks for reopening and testing/vaccination protocols to manage risks.

IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, said IATA firmly believes that government-mandated public health measures to manage the risks of COVID-19 should not be a financial barrier to travel.

“States agreed that the cost of mandatory measures such as testing should be borne by the government in Article 40 of the International Health Regulations. This should not be forgotten in a pandemic. With the cost of PCR testing at US$100 at the low-end and the requirement for multiple tests for a single journey, this could easily make flying unaffordable for individuals and families – reversing decades of progress to make the freedom to travel more accessible. The same applies to quarantine measures where mandated by governments,” Walsh said.

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IATA strongly supports the recommendation to prioritise air crew for vaccination, to protect crew and underpin efficient operations.

“This is critically important during the crisis for global supply chains transporting vaccines, medicines and medical equipment required to combat the virus. If implemented, these recommendations will help governments manage the risks of COVID-19, keep their citizens safe and protect millions of livelihoods that are at risk. The goal is to safely return to more normal lives, including the freedom to travel, while managing the risks of COVID-19 which are likely to be with us for some time.

“Airlines are experts at risk management. It underpins safe and reliable daily operations. Governments should tap into the airline industry’s capabilities to help them implement efficient measures for testing and vaccination that can supersede the blunt instrument of quarantine. That could safely move us towards a more normal world with the freedom to travel and the opportunity to earn a living in the sector.

“Agreement on a digital standard for testing and vaccination documentation is a critical next step. Without globally recognized standards to prove that someone has been vaccinated or tested, the potential for frustrated travelers, fraudulent actors and overwhelmed border authorities is very real. Work needs to be accelerated or the eventual restart will be defeated by mountains of paper,” Walsh said.

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COVID-19IATAWillie Walsh
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