A priority for this critical cooperation is acceleration of the establishment of global standards for vaccination and testing certification.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel as vaccination programs roll out,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Turning this vision into a safe and orderly restart will require careful planning and coordination by governments and industry. This will be challenging as the priority for the weeks and months ahead will be containing the spread of new variants. But even as the crisis deepens, it is important to prepare the way for a resumption of flights when the epidemiological situation permits. Understanding government policy benchmarks and agreeing the global standards needed to support a return to normality in travel will ensure that air transport is well-prepared and does not become a meaningful vector for reimportation. Airlines are ready to support governments in this task.”
Already, some governments are evolving principles in their testing/vaccination programs that could form the foundation for global harmonization. These include:
- Vaccinations: Most governments are pursuing a vaccination strategy that seeks to protect their health care workers and most vulnerable populations first. IATA supports re-opening borders to travel when this has been achieved, as the greatest risks will have been mitigated.
- Vaccinated individuals: The Greek government last week proposed that vaccinated individuals should be immediately exempted from travel restrictions, including quarantine. IATA supports moves by governments, including Poland, Latvia, Lebanon and the Seychelles, to implement this exemption.
- Testing: Many governments are implementing testing regimes to facilitate travel, which IATA supports. Germany and the USA, for example, are taking advantage of the rapid improvement in testing technologies to accept PCR and antigen testing to safely manage the risks of travel.
- Crew: The ICAO-CART guidance recommends that crew be exempted from testing processes and restrictions that are designed for passengers. IATA supports crew health management protocols which include, for example, regular testing and health checks at home bases, along with strict guidelines limiting interaction with the local community during crew layovers. This enables airlines to manage the risks of COVID-19 while maintaining operational viability.
- Multi-layered bio-safety measures: The ICAO recommendations for multi-layered bio-safety measures (including mask-wearing) are being globally implemented. IATA supports such measures remaining fully in place for all travelers until such time as the epidemiological situation allows for relaxation.
“There are plenty of moving parts in the equation,” said de Juniac. “The number of people vaccinated and the availability of testing are key among them. Airlines have adapted their operations to maintain cargo operations and some passenger services, while complying with the numerous and uncoordinated restrictions imposed. Building on this experience they can help governments with their preparations for eventually safely re-establishing global connectivity for their people, businesses and economies.”
Underlying all scenarios for the re-establishment of air connectivity is the development of global standards so that the requirements of one country can be followed by travelers originating in other jurisdictions. Key global standards that must be developed include vaccination certificates, a framework for testing, and testing certificates.
A digital travel credential (DTC) has already been published that can digitally match travelers to their vaccination and testing certificates. The challenge now is implementation.
“As we have seen, unilateral government decisions are very effective in shutting down global mobility,” said de Juniac. “Re-establishing the freedom to travel, however, can only be done with cooperation. Governments are already seeing how challenging that will be without global standards for vaccines or tests. This puts a spotlight on the urgency of the essential work being done by WHO, OECD, and ICAO. IATA is participating in these initiatives and stands ready to help governments with implementation.”