IATA Urges Governments to Make Data-Driven Decisions When Reopening Borders

(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

– 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.”

– 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

– 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

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

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

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

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

“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

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