IATA Issues Norms & Standards for COVID-19 Testing in Air Travel

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released criteria for the use of COVID-19 testing in the travel process.

Should governments choose to introduce COVID-19 testing for travellers arriving from countries considered as high risk, it said, testing must deliver results fast, be able to be conducted at scale and operate to very high rates of accuracy. Additionally, testing must be cost-effective and not create an economic or logistical barrier to travel.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) published Takeoff guidance which is the global guidance for governments to follow in reconnecting their people and economies by air. Takeoff outlines layers of measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission during air travel and the risk of importation of COVID-19 via air travel.

COVID-19 testing should not be a necessary condition for re-opening borders or resuming air services.

Technology for rapid point-of-care polymerised chain reaction (PCR) testing could be a useful layer of protection for travellers from countries considered as higher risk, potentially removing the need for more burdensome and intrusive measures such as quarantine which is a major barrier to travel and the recovery of demand.

“Airlines are committed to reducing the risks of COVID-19 transmission via air travel and COVID-19 testing could play an important role,” said IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

“But it must be implemented in line with ICAO’s global re-start guidance with the aim of facilitating travel. Speed, scale and accuracy are the most critical performance criteria for testing to be effectively incorporated into the travel process,” he said in a statement.

IATA said COVID-19 testing will ideally be required in advance of arrival at the airport and within 24 hours of travel. Passengers arriving ‘ready-to-fly’ reduces the risk of contagion in the airport and enables early re-accommodation for any traveller who tests positive.

If testing is required as part of the travel process, it is recommended at departure. Governments will need to mutually recognise test results and data transmission should take place directly between passengers and governments in a similar manner as e-visa clearances are currently handled.

Cost is an important consideration, said IATA. Testing should facilitate travel and not provide an economic barrier. With testing at some European destinations costing in excess of 200 dollars, this is a real concern.

IATA said it supports the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Health Regulations which requires governments to bear the costs of mandatory health testing. Where a test is offered on a voluntary basis, it should be charged at cost price.

Ideally, testing takes place prior to travel or at the point of departure and a positive result will mean that the passenger could not travel as planned. In this case, airlines have been offering flexibility to consumers. This includes re-booking or refunds in line with the airline’s commercial policy.

Many airlines are offering the same flexibility to passengers who suspect that they have symptoms consistent with Covid-19 as well as members of the same travelling party, particularly when they are members of the same household.

If testing is mandated on arrival and a passenger tests positive, said IATA, then the passenger should be treated according to the requirements of the receiving state. Airlines should not be required to repatriate the passenger(s) or ‘punished’ with financial penalties such as fines or through operational penalties such as the withdrawal of the right to operate in the market.

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