BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

IATA: Make Data-Driven Decisions When Reopening Borders

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(06 Jun 2021) IATA has urged governments to make data-driven decisions to manage the risks of COVID19 when reopening borders to international travel.

Evidence continues to show that COVID19 vaccination protects travellers 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 significant in the spread of the disease and do not pose a major risk to the German population.

– The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) issued interim guidance on the benefits of full vaccination stating that “the likelihood of an infected vaccinated person transmitting the disease is currently assessed to be very low to low.”

Arrivals sign for immigration and baggage claim at Suvarnabhumi Int. Airport (BKK) near Bangkok, Thailand. Picture by Steven Howard of TravelNewsAsia.com Click to enlarge.

– The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) stated that “with a 90% effective vaccine, pre-travel testing, post-travel testing, and 7-day self-quarantine provide minimal additional benefit.”

– The Canadian Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel recommends that vaccinated travelers do not need to be quarantined.

– A Public Health England study has concluded that two doses of the COVID19 vaccines are highly effective against COVID19 variants of concern.

“Data can and should drive policies on restarting global travel that manage COVID19 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 which is so important to people, livelihoods and businesses,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

One challenge which remains is the potential of barriers to travel for unvaccinated people. Data from the UK NHS regarding international travelers arriving in the UK (with no reference to vaccination status) shows that the vast majority of travelers pose no risk for the introduction of COVID19 cases after arrival.

– Between 25 February and 5 May 2021, 365,895 tests were conducted on arriving passengers to the UK. These were PCR negative before travel. Only 2.2% tested positive for COVID19 infection during universal quarantine measures after their arrival. Of those, over half were from “red list” countries, which were considered very high risk. Removing them from the statistics would result in 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—either hotel-managed or self-managed. This impedes the freedom of movement, discourages international travel and destroys employment in the travel and tourism sector” said Walsh. “Data from the UK tells us that we can and must do better. Almost 98% of those detained because of universal quarantine measures tested negative for the virus. We now have more than a year of global data that can help governments make more targeted decisions on international travel. This can keep the risk of importing COVID19 cases low—including variants of concern—while restarting international travel with minimal infringement on the ability to live normal work and social lives. Importantly, lives that include travel.”

IATA teamed-up with Airbus and Boeing to demonstrate potential methodologies to manage the risks of COVID19 to keep populations safe while restarting global connectivity.

Airbus Modeled Whole Journey Risk

Focusing on risks across the whole journey, Airbus considered more than 50 variables (such as number of confirmed cases and fatalities per country, COVID19 testing strategies, traffic statistics, flight length, time spent in airport terminals, provision of on-board catering and air conditioning) in its model.

Assumptions for the model are based on over a dozen data sources (including US CDC and the World Health Organization). Results of the model were cross referenced against data collections from actual results and observations from travel. Using current COVID19 incidence data and not making any consideration for vaccinated travelers (which would only lower the risk of infections), example findings include:

– High to Medium Incidence – Latin America & Caribbean (292 cases/100,000 population) to Canada (95 cases/100,000 population): Assuming the same traffic as in 2019 and without any testing, the model froecast that the local incidence in Canada would increase by just over 1 case / 100,000 population due to the imported cases over 14 days. With a single PCR test before travel, this number falls to less than 1 case/100,000 population.

– Medium to Medium Incidence – Europe (111 cases/100,000 population) to US (81 cases/100,000 population): Assuming the same traffic as in pre-COVID19 and without any testing, the Airbus model predicts that air travel over 14 days would add less than 1 imported case/100,000 population to the local incidence in the US.

– Medium to Low Incidence – Europe (111 cases of COVID19/100,000 population) to Singapore (8 cases/100,000 population): Conservatively assuming the same traffic as in 2019 and without any testing, the model forecast that over 14 days air travel would add over 1 imported case/100,000 population to the local incidence in Singapore. With a PCR test before travel, this number falls to less than 1.

Boeing Modeled the Efficacy of Testing Strategies

Boeing modeling and analysis shows screening protocols offer an alternative to mandatory quarantines for many travel scenarios. The model evaluates the effectiveness of passenger screenings and quarantines in countries around the world. It accounts for various factors including COVID19 prevalence rates between origin and destination countries, the efficacy of PCR and rapid antigen tests, and the disease timeline (how the disease progresses) for passengers traveling with COVID19.

The modeling revealed several key findings:

– Data show there are screening protocols as effective as a 14-day quarantine;

– Screening protocols lower the risk to the destination country; and

– Screening is most beneficial for travel from higher to lower prevalence areas.

The passenger screening model and findings were validated using actual travel testing data from Iceland and Canada. Boeing is now modeling scenarios with vaccinated travelers. As data on new COVID19 variants becomes available, it will also be incorporated in the model.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to manage the various levels of risk,” said Walsh. “The economic and social cost of the blanket measures taken by most governments to date has been unnecessarily high. With this modeling, we are demonstrating that we can be smart with calibrated travel policies that address the risks, enable travel, and protect people. Everybody can respect a data-driven decision. That is the way back to normality.”

No single government action can drive a recovery for international travel. The G20 Tourism Ministers endorsed a data- driven approach to reopening borders. The aviation industry is encouraging the G7 to take leadership by agreeing to work together to use the enormous amounts of data collected since the start of COVID19 to drive a recovery effort. Critically that must restore the freedom to travel for tested or vaccinated persons while avoiding quarantine measures for the vast majority of travelers.

“COVID19 is something that we need to learn to manage, like we do other risks to health,” Walsh added. “We accept many things in society that we know come with risks—from consuming alcoholic beverages to how we drive. We don’t ban these activities. We have some common-sense rules and the information needed to make sensible decisions about how to manage these risks. The post-pandemic future means doing the same for COVID19 so we can all get on with our lives. There is no completely risk-free protocol. Vaccination will play a big role. And the data we have tells us that screening and testing protocols can make travel safely accessible for all.”

“Government policies are naturally risk averse,” said Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “By contrast, the private sector has great experience in managing risks every day to deliver its products and services. COVID19 now appears to be becoming endemic. This means that COVID19 is not likely to disappear 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 evaluate the threshold of risk of virus introduction that they can effectively manage. Then they need to identify with industry feasible strategies to enable an increase in international travel without exceeding those thresholds. Airbus, Boeing and IATA have demonstrated some possible solutions. Now we need more intense and transparent dialogue between governments and the airline industry to move from models to policy and ultimately facilitate international travel.”

See also: What is the IATA Travel Pass, and what does it mean for travellers, airlines and the global travel industry? Exclusive video interview with Vinoop Goel.

See latest Travel Industry News, Video Interviews, Podcasts and other news regarding: COVID19, IATA, Quarantine, Airbus, Boeing.

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