New Travel Guidance Issued by the WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced updated travel guidance, acknowledging that travel bans can't stay in place indefinitely.
The WHO’s guidance published on July 30, 2020, states that removing travel restrictions should be based on local risk assessments in destination and departure countries.
There is no “zero-risk” when considering the potential importation or exportation of viruses in the context of international travel.
The following factors should be considered: public health and health service capacity at national and subnational levels to manage suspect and confirmed cases among travelers, including at points of entry (ports, airports, ground crossings) to mitigate and manage the risk of importation or exportation of disease.
The use of “Immunity certificates” for international travel in the context of COVID-19 is not currently supported by scientific evidence and therefore not recommended by WHO. More evidence is needed to understand the effectiveness of rapid SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests when determining a person’s actual disease immunity.
National surveillance systems for COVID-19 would benefit from the information shared through existing respiratory disease surveillance systems, such as those for influenza, influenza-like-illness, or severe acute respiratory illness.
In addition to the public health risk posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, countries should also take into account other economic, political, and social considerations when deciding on resuming international travel. Such considerations should be assessed with relevant stakeholders and appropriate experts and authorities.
Some countries are already using or are considering the use of digital tools to support contact tracing efforts. These include mobile phones and apps for location tracking or proximity tracing, and/or for symptom reporting during the 14-day post-arrival period.
Mobile phones and apps can be effective in identifying and informing travelers who may have been in contact with a person confirmed to have COVID-19 or a positive test for COVID-19 only if a large proportion of the general population uses such an app.
For travelers, issues of compatibility and data sharing between countries need to be considered, should international contact tracing be warranted. Before adopting such digital tools, countries may want to consider legal and ethical aspects related to individual privacy and personal data protection.
Such technology cannot replace public health contact tracing but may be considered as an adjunct under specific conditions that the WHO has recommended.
When a cluster or chain of transmission involves several countries, international contact tracing can be done in a coordinated and collaborative manner through rapid information sharing via the international network of National IHR Focal Points (NFPs).
The NFPs are accessible at all times and can receive direct support from the regional WHO International Health Regulations (IHR) Contact Points. The contact details of all National IHR Focal Points and WHO IHR Contact Points in the regions can be found in the WHO Event Information System, which is accessible to national health authorities.
It is essential to proactively communicate to the public through traditional media, social media, and other channels about the rationale for gradually resuming international travels.
These tactics and others are essential to rebuilding trust when traveling internationally.
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