Air Industry Seeks to Abolish Passenger Quarantines

Airline passenger quarantines fail the test of proportionality, a key principle of EU law
airplane in the sky
Europe (Vax Before Travel)

European and international aviation associations urge European governments to immediately abolish quarantine measures and other travel restrictions following new Recommendations published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC).

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) - ECDC “Guidelines for COVID-19 testing and quarantine of air travelers: Addendum to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol” also confirm that air travelers account for less than 1 percent of all detected COVID-19 cases and do not increase the rate of virus transmission.

Furthermore, ‘Decision-makers are invited to consider the detailed epidemiological evidence that supports the options presented in this document acknowledging that quarantine or systematic testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus of air travelers in the current epidemiological situation. is not recommended.’

“These Guidelines unequivocally show quarantines to be politically-driven, non-risk-based measures which bear no relation to what is actually needed to safeguard public health, said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, in a press statement issued on December 2, 2020.

“As such, quarantines fail the test of proportionality, a key principle of EU law – particularly since there are no equivalent measures at land borders. This has resulted in unprecedented limitations to the freedom of movement and the freedom to provide services.” 

“We call on national governments to immediately abolish their quarantine restrictions and restore freedom of movement for European citizens,”  

A more harmonized, coordinated approach among the EU, EEA, and the UK States is essential to increase clarity and predictability for citizens and businesses following the EU Council's latest recommendation.

The EASA/ECDC Guidelines consider 14-day quarantines effective only in the “exceptional situation” where a country has achieved full control over the virus and reduced transmission levels to close to zero, and only then for travelers entering from countries where the virus keeps circulating.

Apart from the data presented by the Guidelines, several other analyses confirm the absence of a correlation between passenger traffic and prevalence rates at the national level:

  • ACI EUROPE’s analysis of airport passenger data in the third quarter of 2020 unequivocally rejects any relationship between air travel and increasing COVID-19 transmission rates. During this period, the brief increase in air passenger traffic was proven to have no statistically significant relationship with the COVID-19 test positivity rate, based on aviation, public health, and community mobility data.
  • Similarly, Oxera’s study confirmed that the risk of introducing international travel infections should be assessed relative to domestic infection levels. It projected that among weekly incoming passenger volumes of 409,800 from the EU to the UK, only 0.01% of air travelers were expected to be infectious travelers being released into the UK population. This is the equivalent of one infectious person per 10,000 travelers.
  • McMaster HealthLabs in Canada has also published its interim report on their COVID-19 study of arriving international passengers, which again backs up the figure of 99% of passengers testing negative. This, says the labs, is a powerful tool to make “science-based policy decisions” and reject quarantines as a relevant containment approach. Airlines and airports believe that rapid testing of passengers traveling between high and low-risk areas can contribute to and support the early detection of cases amongst asymptomatic travelers.

European air passenger traffic has been among the most heavily impacted regions and recently plunged to -89% at EU/EEA/Swiss & UK airports. 

To-date, 102 airports across Europe, accounting for 47percent of passenger traffic on the continent, have deployed testing facilities under the supervision of their competent health and aviation authorities. 

These testing facilities have allowed several airlines and airports to propose “COVID-19 free flights” and quarantine-free travel corridors on certain air routes, including most recently between Italy and the United States, based on a testing protocol for air travelers. This proves the all-important role that testing can play in re-establishing connectivity.

“Rapid testing which utilizes the latest technologies available and meets the high sensitivity and sensibility criteria established by ECDC can help restore predictability, reignite passenger confidence and thus reestablish flight connectivity for European passengers,” said Thomas Reynaert, Managing Director, Airlines for Europe.

Europe’s aviation associations urge the European States to work together bilaterally to replicate such initiatives and develop more quarantine free travel corridors.

“Testing technologies are evolving quickly, and we stand ready to work with EASA, the ECDC, and national governments to implement the most efficient and effective methods to get Europe moving again,” said Montserrat Barriga, Director General, European Regions Airline Association.

“Rapid testing of passengers for COVID-19 opens the door to restarting air travel by eliminating quarantine. And the public agrees: Some 65% of travelers surveyed suggest quarantine should not apply to passengers who have tested negative,” added Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe.

“The EASA/ECDC protocol makes it clear that quarantine is not an effective measure in the present circumstances. And the protocol must also be applied to remove the temporary travel restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU from third countries.”

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