Coronavirus: Airports, airlines push for testing within 48hr of travel to avoid quarantine

MONTREAL/SYDNEY • Airlines and airports were set to ask a United Nations-led task force meeting yesterday to recommend that countries accept a negative Covid-19 test within 48 hours of travel as an alternative to quarantines that have decimated demand for travel, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The industry wanted the task force to make the recommendation for passengers travelling from countries with high Covid-19 infection rates when it met yesterday to review guidelines for international travel amid the pandemic.

“A test prior to departure could reduce the risk of importation by up to 90 per cent, enabling air travel to be opened up between a large number of countries without a quarantine requirement,” said the proposal from Airports Council International (ACI) and airline trade group International Air Transport Association (Iata).

“We don’t support across-the-board mandatory testing,” Iata medical adviser David Powell told Reuters.

“But if there are situations where there is a higher risk in the country of origin and it can avoid the need for quarantine, then we certainly support that and advocate for that concept.”

Dr Powell said the 48-hour period recommended by the Iata and ACI was up for discussion and that it could make sense for some travellers to take a second test upon arrival at their destination.

The push for testing comes as the industry’s hopes for a recovery were dealt a blow last week when Britain reintroduced quarantines on travellers from France and the Netherlands.

Airlines are forecasting a 55 per cent decline in air traffic this year, according to the Iata, which reported that 85 per cent of surveyed travellers expressed concerns about quarantine.

The proposal calls for the use of PCR or polymerase chain reaction tests conducted outside of airports.

The task force did not raise testing as an alternative to quarantines in May when it recommended a uniform approach towards reviving flights. However, there is the possibility of this happening after yesterday’s meeting.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) was not immediately available for comment. While task force recommendations are voluntary, ICAO guidelines are typically adopted by its 193 member countries.

Requiring testing raises cost issues for travellers, given airlines are unlikely to bear the approximate US$200 (S$270) expense.

The sector faces up to US$314 billion in lost revenue in 2020, according to ICAO forecasts.


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