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Testing and quarantining air travelers not ‘effective,’ new EU guidelines warn

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

Such measures only work if the coronavirus transmission rate is very low, aviation and health regulators say.

Imposing quarantines or systematic testing on travelers isn’t an “effective public health measure” to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, according to European guidelines on health measures in air travel released Wednesday.

In a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, many European countries require arriving travelers to get tested and quarantine, although their approaches have varied wildly across the bloc.

But the new guidelines, written by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), state that such measures are only useful if a country has reduced transmission levels to “almost zero.”

In the current epidemiological situation, imported cases account for just a small proportion of detected cases. Coronavirus prevalence in travelers is “estimated likely to be lower than the prevalence in the general population or among contacts of confirmed cases,” they wrote. Systematic testing or quarantines for air travelers is therefore currently “not recommended.”

“The traveler, it’s not an infected person,” Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said Wednesday at the POLITICO’s Sustainable Future Summit. “We have absolutely no scientific proof that traveling as such was bringing an increase of the [infection] numbers.”

Travelers should be treated as any other resident at their destination and observe local rules, she said, rather than facing quarantines with “absolutely no indication of symptoms … or with no contact.”

The guidelines “can be important in making many family reunions over Christmas possible,” EASA’s Executive Director Patrick Ky said, urging national decision-makers “to take account of the recommendations given here when making their policies.”

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More guidelines

The Commission on Wednesday issued a new strategy on how to stay COVID-19 safe during the winter. It stressed the need for a coordinated approach ahead of a likely increase in travel over the holidays.

That comes after an EU-brokered coordination deal in October stipulated that travelers from low-risk areas should be exempted from restrictive measures, but that’s done little to do away with travel restrictions as countries grapple with a new wave of the virus.

The aviation industry, which had pinned its hopes on a harmonized approach on travel measures to revive air travel, said the October deal was too “loose” to have an impact.

In reaction to Wednesday’s new guidelines, the aviation industry called on governments to “immediately abolish” their quarantine measures. 

“These Guidelines unequivocally show quarantines to be essentially politically-driven, non-risk-based measures which bear no relation to what is actually needed to safeguard public health,” Olivier Jankovec, the director general of airport lobby ACI Europe, said in a statement.

Routine testing of travelers could even have a negative impact, EASA and ECDC warned, as it risks taking resources away from the more urgent testing and tracing of high-risk contacts.

“At this point in time, imported cases are likely to contribute little to the on-going spread of the virus. Therefore, we advise the Member States to focus instead on building robust testing capacities for suspected cases, coupled with the isolation of people who test positive, as well as contact tracing and quarantine of contacts in the community,” ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said.

The sector advocates rapid testing as a way to win back passenger confidence and revive air traffic.

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It “opens the door to restarting air travel by eliminating quarantine,” said Rafael Schvartzman, the regional vice president for Europe of the International Air Transport Association.

However, the ECDC and EASA guidelines don’t rule out the need for quarantines — only that such measures should be used if countries achieve “consistent sustained control” of the virus. Before entering a coronavirus-free area, all travelers from riskier regions should be tested, undergo a quarantine and get another test at the end of the quarantine period.

When the coronavirus situation improves, a combination of testing and a shortened quarantine could be considered for travel from an area where the risk is high or unknown to a low-risk area, or “exceptionally” for travel between high-risk areas, if the departure point is in a very high-incidence area, EASA and ECDC argued.

In the meantime, a simplified procedure for exchanging contact information through a passenger locator form is “imperative,” they said.

The Commission and EASA will deliver a platform for a harmonized and unified passenger locator form in digital form at the European level this month, Vălean said, urging EU countries to sign up.

“It will allow authorities to keep monitoring the travelers but on the other hand not to deter travel … or consider a traveler to be an infected person.”

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Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/quarantines-and-testing-in-air-travel-not-effective-new-eu-guidelines-warn/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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