FRANKFURT: International air traffic is down 92% this year, as travelers fear catching the Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease, government travel bans and quarantine rules make planning difficult. One thing the airlines think they can help with is a quick test for all passengers before departure.
Experiments on improving security are taking place scattered around the world and a United Nations organization is leading discussions to define guiding principles. There is much at stake. With no end in sight to the epidemic, the near-complete halt of international travel will hinder economies as they try to recover from recession and return to normal levels of business activity. Millions of jobs are affected – in airlines, airports, and travel-related companies such as hotels and restaurants.
Here is a look at some of the main issues.
Why focus on testing?
One of the main factors preventing people from making long-haul flights is the fear of sitting next to a person who has COVID-19, according to a survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Although the flight helped move the virus around the world at first, the aircraft themselves have not yet proven to be widely spread places such as trade conferences, factories, and meat packaging.
Most people are also reluctant to go into quarantine that limits their activities for up to two weeks after arrival. Quarantine itself is not ideal to prevent the spread of the virus, because in some cases it is not strictly enforced.
“Testing all passengers will give people the freedom to travel with confidence. This will put millions of people back into work, said Alexandre de Juniac, managing director and CEO of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
How will the tests work?
The first tests focus on testing passengers before departure, either at the airport or remotely. Information on the test result can be documented via the smartphone app. The latest tests can give results in under an hour.
What do the health authorities say?
They are open to the idea, but still rate its effectiveness.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control notes that testing technology, capacity, and access to testing are improving. He added: “Efforts are currently underway at the international level to assess risk reduction, define the form of a practical test system for air transport, and obtain a certain level of agreement on the standards of the approach. Globally Coordinated Test in Air Transport ”.
Who will decide?
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) requires fast, accurate and scalable testing for all passengers. After airline managers requested assistance from the European Union and the White House Covid-19 Task Force, the issue appears to have turned into a forum for the United Nations, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) based in Montreal.
The International Civil Aviation Organization operates on the basis of guidelines based on scientific advice that countries can use to create test systems.
What tests are running?
Various forms of testing have been tried for weeks in different places. What airlines want is a larger, international approach.
For example, China requires a negative polymerase chain reaction test which takes time before departure.
The Switzerland-based Commons Project and the World Economic Forum are hosting this month’s experiences for CommonPass, a digital health permit that allows travelers to securely document compliance with COVID-19 test requirements via a QR code, on their smartphones or on paper. The idea is to solve problems related to printed test results, which may come from unfamiliar laboratories or in a language that inspectors do not know.
What is theft?
There are many moving parts in any test system. First, the test must be accurate, fast, and inexpensive enough to be widely publicized.
Governments must accept the results; While
Governments are represented in the International Civil Aviation Organization, and the organization’s guidance will not be binding.
There must be a method for certifying the result, while protecting the confidentiality of passenger medical information, and a procedure for dealing with people who have tested positive.
Scientists warn that there are concerns about the accuracy of some of the rapid tests. People can test negative for a few days after infection. People can be contagious before they develop symptoms, and these people can also test negative.
Is testing the only solution?
The International Air Transport Association calls for a multi-layered approach. In addition to testing, this means: social distancing at the airport, contactless check-in, wearing masks during the flight, and limiting passenger movement in the cabin.