By Alex Macheras
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments in Africa and Middle East (AME) to implement testing as an alternative to quarantine measures when re-opening their economies.
Thirty-five countries in Africa and the Middle East have government-imposed quarantine measures in place. This is an increase of seven countries since August. The impact is that the region effectively remains in lockdown despite borders being open. Recent public opinion research showed that 88% of travellers would not even consider traveling if quarantine measures were imposed on travellers at their destination.
Airlines should be working with airports, governments, and public health agencies to define, and then agree on a global standard of health protection measures, most importantly: Invest and implement passenger Covid-19 testing.
Air travel must be able to coexist with Covid-19, and a harmonised approach to health measures (checks, screening, tests) is needed to open up the world and get people back on to aircraft.
Testing remains one of the few strategic options available to airlines, and we’re seeing air travel demand begin to pick up with nations that are using testing to permit foreign travel.
Iceland introduced a two-test regime for arrivals from August 19, with the second after five days of quarantine: Testing at the border, PCR testing is done upon arrival and following the test, passengers should travel directly to their registered address (provided in their pre-registration form) and adhere to rules of quarantine. The 2nd test is 5 days later and if negative then quarantine is lifted.
A positive test requires isolation and further testing. While waiting for test results, passengers need to self-quarantine until they receive their results from the 2nd test.
All travellers from high-risk areas need to quarantine between the 2 tests. Passengers can expect to receive their test results within 24 hours. Passengers who test positive will receive a phone call notifying them. If you are not contacted in 24 hours your test is negative. Negative results are also sent through the app, or by text message.
Additionally, Lufthansa and Centogene have set up a walk-in coronavirus testing centre at Frankfurt Airport for arriving and departing passengers. It has been in operation all summer and has conducted tests on more than 150,000 passengers. “On average, about 1% of the samples were positive during the last six weeks. Over 97% of the Covid-19 test results were digitally transmitted to passengers in August 2020 in less than 24 hours, reported Lufthansa.
Testing is being endorsed by IATA, including for here in the Middle East: “Mandatory quarantine measures stop people from travelling. We understand that governments’ priority is on protecting the well–being of their citizens. Quarantine destroys livelihoods. Testing is an alternative method that will also save travel and tourism jobs,” said Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East.
Quarantines, closed borders and travel restrictions continue to decimate travel demand in Africa and the Middle East. Traffic levels in Africa and the Middle East saw the largest drop of all regions in July compared to 2019 levels. Total passenger traffic in Africa in July 2020 was 93.7% below 2019 levels and in the Middle East 95.5% below 2019 levels.
Aviation supported more than 6.2mn jobs and $56bn in GDP in Africa and 2.4mn jobs and $130bn in GDP in the Middle East pre-Covid-19. The economic impact of the collapse in air traffic in 2020 due to Covid-19 could be 3.5mn lost jobs and $35bn in GDP in Africa and 1.5mn lost jobs and $85bn in GDP Middle East.
“Testing provides a safe alternative to quarantine and a solution to stop the economic and social devastation being caused by Covid-19,” said Albakri.
This week, British Airways' boss said on Wednesday the company was doing everything possible to make it through the winter, highlighting the pressures it faces from the coronavirus crisis.
Painting a bleak picture, BA CEO Alex Cruz said the airline was running at 25 to 30% of its normal flight schedule, and urged the government to bring in a Covid-19 testing regime to shorten 14-day quarantine rules and get people travelling again.
Cruz also said a fear of flying during the pandemic had destroyed any hope of a rapid return to normality.
He said: “As CEO of British Airways, I have to take responsibility. I cannot ignore the situation. I had to act incredibly fast. “I deeply, deeply regret that way too many loyal and hardworking colleagues of mine are having to leave our business, and I understand why MPs are concerned.”
Cruz said: “This is an impossible situation.
"We’re having to make incredibly difficult decisions as a consequence of this pandemic and it is really only because of Covid-19 that we have had to go through such deep restructuring.
“I have to make these difficult decisions at this time, but I am completely dedicated and focused on protecting those nearly 30,000 jobs of those British Airways colleagues that will remain within the business.”
* The author is an aviation analyst.
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