Airlines, airports urge COVID-19 tests as quarantine alternative

Industry will ask UN task force to recommend nations accept negative virus test as quarantine alternative, say sources.

Airport Heathrow
The push for testing comes as the air travel industry's hopes for a recovery were dealt a blow last week when the United Kingdom reintroduced quarantines on travellers from France and the Netherlands [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

Airlines and airports will ask a United Nations-led task force meeting on Tuesday 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 news agency.

The industry wants the task force to make the recommendation for passengers travelling from countries with high COVID-19 infection rates when it meets on Tuesday to review guidelines for international travel amid the pandemic.

“A test prior to departure could reduce the risk of importation by up to 90 percent, 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 the airline trade group International Air Transport Association (IATA).

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

Airlines are forecasting a 55 percent decline in 2020 air traffic, according to IATA, which reported 85 percent of surveyed travellers expressed concerns about quarantine.

“We don’t support across-the-board mandatory testing,” IATA medical adviser Dr 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.”

The proposal calls for the use of PCR (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 toward reviving flights, but it could do so after Tuesday’s meeting.

The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was not immediately available to comment.

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

While task force recommendations are voluntary, ICAO guidelines are typically adopted by its 193 member countries.

Requiring testing raises cost issues for travellers, given that airlines are unlikely to bear the approximate $200 expense. The sector faces up to $314bn in lost revenue in 2020, according to ICAO forecasts.

Source: Reuters