Travel and tourism are vital parts of many economies. The industry has been battered by COVID-19 and is trying to make some form of recovery. How likely, however, is any form of recovery achievable when there is no global approach and no international standard to testing for pre-departure as well as a few days after people land?
Why is this protocol so important? Pre-flight testing would prevent people who are shedding and contagious from entering the aviation network. Such tests would keep passengers, airport staff and flight crew safe. It is a little late to test on arrival to find infectious cases. There is a logistical issue with the need to trace all the people on the flight and to ask them and the flight crews to quarantine.
It is widely agreed that it takes 3-4 days for the virus to incubate. For people that have come from areas of high infection rates, a short 4-days quarantine, followed by a test makes the most sense. Longer just allows people who are asymptomatic more time to break quarantine and be spreaders. Of course for people staying for a week or two weeks holiday this incubation would happen on vacation. Testing on their return departure again would pick up the asymptomatic carriers which might be as high as 70% of those that get infected.
Unless such a pre-departure and arrival testing approach is adopted on a global basis there is little chance of containing the virus, which some experts are saying could be with us for a decade.
When you look at these two snapshots from flightradar, taken of Europe and North America during mid-morning on Saturday, 25th June, the problem is blindingly obvious.
What is the point of entire economies locking down when the virus circulates with such ease through this level of aviation activity?
It took just 15 days for the USA to go from 3 to 4 million people infected. All those flights on that day may not have been full but it only takes 2-3 people to be infected on some of those flights and it is clear why the USA is facing such a grave situation.
We are now seven months into this catastrophe. When you look at the statistics of how the virus rapidly spread westwards across the globe from its source; when you see the acceleration in the USA, which has, nevertheless, not shut down domestic aviation; when you read of the new waves of infections taking place in holiday destinations such as Spain, there is nothing safe, secure and sustainable about the current approach to testing of those that use commercial aviation.
TravelSafe predicted a start-stop-start-stop scenario for travel and so called “air bridges”, and that has just happened for Spain for UK tourists.
Unless we have a global unified aviation containment plan, we probably will just have to live with COVID-19 for a long time and suffer the consequences of repeated outbreaks, more deaths and broken economies.