The COVID-19 pandemic is entering its second wave throughout Europe. As a response, Member States continue to implement uncoordinated travel restrictions and quarantine measures, directly preventing the free movement of people in Europe but also hindering the recovery of the aviation sector and local economies.
A4E believes that establishing a European testing protocol for travel and relying on rapid antigen tests would provide a solution for restoring traveller confidence. This position paper details how testing should replace all quarantine and movement restrictions, and a negative test result should allow the person to avoid or end their quarantine.
Although the Council Recommendation adopted on 13 October provides some guidance to EU Member States to coordinate their travel restrictions, the text falls short of providing predictable and proportionate measures that would actually support the recovery of the aviation sector.
Since the spring, European airlines have demonstrated that flying remains safe. They have implemented safety protocols in line with EASA guidelines, ensuring that their crew and passengers can fly safely. This includes increased use of digital tools to limit interactions, use of face masks throughout the journey, disinfection of aircraft and continuous use of HEPA filters. In addition, recent studies demonstrate that the risk of inflight infection is close to zero.Research Points to Low Risk for COVID-19 Transmission Inflight, 8 October 2020 — IATA
A4E continues to call on Member States to invest in making quick and reliable COVID-19 tests available. The capacity shortages that we are witnessing in some Member States are negatively impacting our health systems and chances to restart our economies.
- Quarantine measures or movement restrictions must remain an instrument of last resort. Blanket quarantines should be avoided as much as possible and should not be applied for travellers arriving from regions with a lower or similar spread of the virus or where pre-testing is in place. Where applicable, the duration of quarantines should be reduced to a minimum number of days and unified throughout Europe for consistency. A negative test result — either via PCR or rapid antigen testing — should allow the person to avoid or end their quarantine.
- Testing should replace all quarantine and movement restrictions, as it allows for risk mitigation measures to be implemented on an individual level. Therefore, tests are a targeted and effective solution. Member States should deploy this risk mitigation strategy based on rapid testing methods that are becoming increasingly available, including antigen tests.
- Restoring traveller confidence: Mass deployment of affordable quick tests shortly before departure — potentially at the departure airport — could restore European travel by minimizing risks and giving confidence to travellers. An effective testing protocol would boost passengers’ confidence, knowing they would potentially not need to quarantine, or only for a limited amount of time if they are arriving from high-risk regions.
The safe restart of air travel is our main goal. We also need to take into consideration that there are different risk profiles among travellers, depending on their activities. In this context, A4E supports a clear exclusion from travel restrictions and quarantine measures for:
- Crew and airline staff — who are trained to reduce risk, are following specific hygiene schemes and are under close supervision of European airlines.
- Business travellers — when they stay in a risk area for less than 72 hours, as they are risk-aware and have minimal contact with the local population.
- Package travellers — package holidays are organised end-to-end with strict health and safety protocols in place and there is minimal contact with the local population whilst in a resort.
- Passengers in transit.
Rapid testing should become available throughout the EU: we need mutual recognition of test results between Member States in order to ensure that travellers do not need to take a second test if not necessary.
More broadly, we call on health authorities to change their approach to air travel: from a zero-risk approach to a risk-based approach. The upcoming EASA-ECDC Testing Protocol should embrace a safe and balanced approach to risk, by including the various points detailed above.