IATA urged governments to make data-driven decisions to reopen borders
Strategies without quarantine measures can allow international travel to restart with low risk
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to make data-driven decisions to manage COVID-19 risks by reopening borders to international travel. Strategies without quarantine measures can allow international travel to restart with a low risk of COVID-19 introduction at the travel destination.
“Data can and should drive policies to restart global travel that manage COVID-19 risks to protect populations, revive livelihoods and boost economies. We call on the G7 governments meeting later this month to agree on the use of data to safely plan and coordinate the return of the freedom to travel that is so important to people, livelihoods and communities. companies, ”said Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA.
Evidence continues to show that vaccination protects travelers from serious illness and death, and carries a low risk of introducing the virus into destination countries:
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) concluded that vaccinated travelers are no longer important in the spread of the disease and do not pose a significant risk to the German population.
The European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) issued an interim guidance on the benefits of full vaccination stating that "the probability that an infected vaccinated person will transmit the disease is currently considered very low to low".
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) stated that "with a 90% effective vaccine, pre-trip testing, post-trip testing, and 7-day self-quarantine provide minimal additional benefit. "
The Canadian Advisory Panel of Experts on Testing and Detection recommends that vaccinated travelers do not need to be quarantined.
A study by Public Health England has concluded that two doses of COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against the worrying variants of COVID-19.
Tests for unvaccinated travelers
One challenge is the potential for barriers to travel for unvaccinated people that would create unacceptable exclusion. UK NHS data on international travelers arriving in the UK (without reference to vaccination status) show that the vast majority of travelers are not at risk of introducing COVID-19 cases after arrival.
Between February 25 and May 5, 2021, 365,895 tests were carried out on passengers arriving in the UK. These were PCR negative before the trip. Only 2.2% tested positive for COVID-19 infection during universal quarantine measures after arrival. Of these, more than half were from “red list” countries, which were considered very high risk. Removing them from the statistics would result in a test positivity of 1.46%.
Of the 103,473 arrivals from the EU (excluding Ireland), 1.35% tested positive. Three countries, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, accounted for 60% of the positive cases.
“Many governments continue to require universal quarantine, whether it is run by hotels or self-managed. This impedes freedom of movement, discourages international travel, and destroys employment in the travel and tourism sector. UK data tells us that we can and must do better. Almost 98% of those detained due to universal quarantine measures tested negative for the virus. We now have over a year of global data that can help governments make more specific decisions about international travel. This can keep the risk of importing COVID-19 cases low, including variants of concern, while restarting international travel with a minimal violation of the ability to lead a normal work and social life.
IATA partnered with Airbus and Boeing to demonstrate potential methodologies to manage COVID-19 risks to keep populations safe while global connectivity restarts. Aviation, including manufacturers, effectively manages and mitigates risks every day to keep air travel safe. Using these skills, Airbus and Boeing have developed data-driven risk management models to understand the impact of various options.
Entire trip risk modeled by Airbus
Focusing on risks throughout the entire journey, Airbus considered more than 50 variables (such as the number of confirmed cases and deaths per country, COVID-19 testing strategies, traffic statistics, flight duration, time spent in airport terminals, catering supply on board and air conditioning) in your model. Assumptions for the model are based on more than a dozen data sources (including the US CDC and the World Health Organization). And the results of the model were compared with the data collections of the actual results and observations from the trips. Using current COVID-19 incidence data and disregarding vaccinated travelers (which would only reduce the risk of infections), example results include:
High to medium incidence: Latin America and the Caribbean (292 cases / 100,000 inhabitants) to Canada (95 cases / 100,000 inhabitants): assuming the same traffic as in 2019 and without any evidence, we expect the local incidence in Canada to increase by just over 1 case / 100,000 inhabitants due to imported cases for 14 days. With a single PCR test before the trip, this number is reduced to less than 1 case / 100,000 inhabitants.
Medium to medium incidence: Europe (111 cases / 100,000 inhabitants) to the US (81 cases / 100,000 inhabitants): assuming the same traffic as before COVID-19 and without any evidence, the Airbus model predicts that travel airs for 14 days add less than 1 imported case / 100,000 population to the local incidence in the US.
Medium to low incidence: From Europe (111 COVID-19 cases / 100,000 inhabitants) to Singapore (8 cases / 100,000 inhabitants): conservatively assuming the same traffic as in 2019 and without any evidence, we predict that more than 14 days of Air travel would add more than 1 imported case / 100,000 inhabitants to the local incidence in Singapore. With a pre-trip PCR test, this number drops to less than 1.
The Airbus model, designed to help government stakeholders reopen air travel, demonstrates that the risk of virus transmission and translocation can be significantly reduced through data-driven detection and protection measures.
Boeing modeled the effectiveness of testing strategies
Boeing modeling and analysis shows that detection protocols offer an alternative to mandatory quarantines for many travel scenarios. The model assesses the effectiveness of passenger controls and quarantines in countries around the world. It takes into account several factors, including COVID-19 prevalence rates between origin and destination countries, the effectiveness of PCR and rapid antigen tests, and the disease schedule (how the disease progresses) for passengers traveling with COVID-19.
The model revealed several key findings:
Data shows that there are screening protocols (listed below) as effective as a 14-day quarantine
Screening protocols reduce risk to destination country
Screening is most beneficial for travel from areas of highest to lowest prevalence
The passenger screening model and findings were validated using actual travel test data from Iceland and Canada. Boeing is now modeling scenarios with vaccinated travelers. As data on new COVID-19 variants becomes available, it will also be incorporated into the model.
“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to manage the different levels of risk. The economic and social cost of the general measures taken by most governments to date has been unnecessarily high. With this model, we are showing that we can be smart with calibrated travel policies that address risk, enable travel and protect people. Everyone can respect a decision based on data. That's the way back to normal” Walsh said.
No government action can drive the recovery of international travel. The G20 Tourism Ministers endorsed a data-driven approach to reopening borders. The aviation industry is encouraging the G7 to take the lead by agreeing to work together to use the massive amount of data collected since the onset of COVID-19 to fuel a recovery effort. Fundamentally, this should restore freedom to travel for those screened or vaccinated, while avoiding quarantine measures for the vast majority of travelers.
Industry risk management experience can help the public health sector achieve a return to normalcy.
“COVID-19 is something we must learn to manage, just as we do with other health risks. We accept many things in society that we know carry risks, from drinking alcohol to how we drive. We do not prohibit these activities. We have some common sense rules and the information necessary to make sensible decisions about how to manage these risks. The post-pandemic future means doing the same for COVID-19 so that we can all move on with our lives. There is no completely risk-free protocol. Vaccination will play an important role. And the data we have tells us that screening and testing protocols can make travel safely accessible for everyone” Walsh said.
“Government policies are naturally risk averse. On the contrary, the private sector has a great experience in risk management every day to deliver its products and services. COVID-19 now appears to be becoming endemic. This means that COVID-19 is not likely to go away anytime soon, so governments and industry must work together to rebuild global connectivity while managing the associated risks. The first step is for governments to assess the risk threshold for virus introduction that they can manage effectively. They then need to be identified with viable industry strategies to allow for an increase in international travel without exceeding those thresholds. Airbus, Boeing and IATA have demonstrated some possible solutions.