New guidelines published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) suggests that there is no increased risk to the spread of COVID from passengers arriving by air. The document says that arriving passengers should no longer be forced to quarantine, an idea that has been warmly welcomed by the aviation community around Europe.
New guidelines say air travelers should not be considered high risk
Guidelines published today jointly by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), at the request of the European Commission, state that people traveling during the pandemic should not be considered high risk for spreading infection. It says that passengers should be treated the same as members of the local population who have not had direct contact with a COVID-19 infected person.
This has some significant implications for the current handling of those transiting between countries. In many cases, incoming passengers are required to quarantine for extended periods, even when arriving from countries with a low level of infection. Patrick Ky, Executive Director at EASA, commented on the findings saying,
“This new document is a true European contribution for the benefits of European citizens. Its findings can be important in making many family reunions over Christmas possible. It builds on the measures we already put in place with the Aviation Health Safety Protocol and reinforces the view that there is no inherent risk in air travel – indeed air travellers are seen as a relatively “COVID-safe” population. We would encourage national decision-makers to take account of the recommendations given here when making their policies.”
— ECDC (@ECDC_EU) December 2, 2020
The guidelines identify that, because COVID is already established in all European Union and European Economic Areas, along with most geographical zones worldwide, maintaining quarantine is no longer necessary. Even testing, it says, would only serve to divert resources away from more urgent needs such as contact tracing.
Aviation bodies call for quarantine scrap
On the back of the announcement of the guidelines, IATA (the International Air Transport Association), A4E (Airlines for Europe), ACI (Airports Council International) and ERA (European Regions Airline Association) released a joint statement urging governments to immediately abolish passenger quarantines. Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE, commented,
“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 … We call on national governments to immediately abolish their quarantine restrictions and restore freedom of movement for European citizens.”
The bodies were openly joined by Ryanair, Europe’s biggest airline and staunch critic of travel restrictions. The airline published a tweet urging governments to act now and stop preventing people from moving.
We're urging national governments to immediately abolish quarantines.
Recommendations published by EASA and the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC) unequivocally reject their use in the current situation.
— Ryanair Press Office (@RyanairPress) December 2, 2020
It remains to be seen whether any governments will act on the new guidelines, which evaluated that air travelers account for less than 1% of all detected COVID-19 cases. Should border restrictions be removed in good time, many more families could be allowed to spend Christmas together.