While airlines may be ready to resume flights, are passengers?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released criteria for the use of COVID-19 testing in the travel process, reinforcing guidance issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

ICAO’s ‘Take-Off’ guidelines outline 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. It says COVID-19 testing should not be a necessary condition for re-opening borders or resuming air services.

The guidelines say that 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. 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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

The case of Indonesia’s Lion Air Group highlights the necessity of such guidelines. On 5 June, Lion Air, Wings Air and Batik Air suspended passenger domestic and international flights, citing that following an evaluation of previous flight operations, many prospective passengers were unable to carry out air travel because they did not complete the required documents and conditions during the Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic alert period.

Then, just five days later, Lion Air Group restarted operations for domestic passenger services, noting that “prospective air passengers are increasingly understanding and will be able to fulfil the requirements needed to travel.”

Additionally, the Lion Air Group published a circular concerning the criteria of travel requirements following a ‘period of adaptation of new habits’ and simplifying the conditions to be fulfilled by each prospective passenger when travelling.

According to the circular letter, prospective passengers only need proof of health tests such as PCR or Rapid Test and or medical certificate. If the health test used is Rapid Test, then the validity period is 3 days, or if Reverse Transcription – Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) is used, then the validity period is 7 days, or if both of the above test methods are not available in the original area, then the prospective passengers should get an influenza symptom-free certificate from a hospital doctor/Puskesmas [Indonesian community health centres].

It seems testing is a test itself.

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