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Aviation restart in Africa, Middle East threatened by quarantine measures

By Edith Mutethya in Nairobi, Kenya | | Updated: 2020-07-03 17:55
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Passengers are seen at the South African Airways (SAA) customer desk, after SAA announced that it would immediately suspend all intercontinental flights until May 31 in response to a government travel ban aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa March 20, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The International Air Transport Association or IATA has raised concerns that government-imposed quarantine measures threaten the restart of aviation services in Africa and the Middle East even as more countries continue to reopen their economies.

The association said government-imposed quarantine measures in 36 countries across Africa and the Middle East account for 40 percent of all quarantine measures globally. With over 80 percent of travelers unwilling to travel when quarantine is required, the impact of these measures is that countries remain in lockdown even if their borders are open.

IATA urged governments in the region to implement alternatives to quarantine on arrival that would allow economies to restart while avoiding the importation of coronavirus cases.

"Africa and the Middle East have the highest number of countries in the world with government-imposed quarantine measures on arriving passengers," Muhammad Albakri, IATA's regional vice-president for Africa and the Middle East, said.

"The region is effectively in complete lockdown with the travel and tourism sector shuttered. This is detrimental in a region where 8.6 million people depend on aviation for their livelihoods."

To protect public health while restarting aviation, IATA proposed focusing on reducing the risk of imported cases via travelers and mitigating risk in cases where an infected person travels.

This can be achieved through discouraging symptomatic passengers from traveling, with airlines offering flexibility to passengers who need to adjust their schedule.

This is in addition to public health risk mitigation measures such as health screening by governments in the form of health declarations, as well as coronavirus testing for travelers from countries perceived to be "higher-risk" when accurate and fast testing is available at scale.

IATA proposes reducing the risk of transmission during the air travel journey with the implementation of the take-off guidelines published by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

This is in addition to contact tracing to efficiently isolate any traveler who may become symptomatic and infectious after arrival as well as reducing risk of transmission at the destination through overall government measures to fight the virus.

"Implementing a layered approach should give governments the confidence to open borders without quarantine, and passengers the confidence to fly. Air connectivity is critical to economic and sustainable development in and across Africa and the Middle East," Albakri said.

According to IATA, more than 8.6 million jobs in the airline industry and those businesses supported by aviation are at risk across Africa and the Middle East. Thousands of jobs have already been lost due to the shutdown of air traffic.

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