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COVID-19: Testing v Vaccine; Qantas v IATA

COVID-19: Testing v Vaccine; Qantas v IATA

Possibly a little of a manufactured dispute between Qantas and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Yesterday, Alan Joyce said during a television interview, that Qantas may require mandatory vaccination for passengers to travel with it internationally once a vaccine is available.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director General thinks that might be a little premature, given that the vaccines in all probability won’t be generally available until mid-2021. Speaking after the IATA General Meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, he called on governments to end border bans and mandatory quarantines in favour of testing regimes.

Juniac argues that if the airline industry waits until vaccines are available – probably mid 2021, then the airline industry might have suffered a premature death.

As quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“We cannot wait for the vaccine to be deployed, otherwise we’ll all be dead.”

“Testing is the key priority … the key issue [is] to remove the travel restrictions, that is the point I think we should focus on.”

“An immediate solution already exists, we could safely open borders today with systematic COVID-19 testing.”

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director General
IATA Digital Travel Pass overview from IATA presentation

IATA Digital Travel Pass

The Airline industry body launched this smartphone app on Monday, proposing it as part of the solution to getting international airlines back in the air, with the aim of testing it on the proposed (since delayed) Hong Kong – Singapore travel bubble.

The Travel Pass app looks to integrate 4 needs:

  • Accurate information for passengers on travel, testing, vaccine requirements
  • Location of testing/vaccination centres that meet the requirements of their destination
  • Provision of recognised secure certificates of testing/vaccination to passengers
  • Passenger ‘digital passport’ of testing/vaccination certification for travel

The app might be the easy part. Wrangling the agreement of testing and vaccination organisations, governments and airlines might be the real challenge.

Airline industry in crisis

There is no doubt that the international airline industry is in crisis with projected losses of AU$215 billion due to the pandemic. passenger numbers are nearly 2 billion short of 2019 levels, which makes them roughly equivalent to travel figures for back in 2003! If you consider pre-pandemic predictions of passenger numbers, then the slump is closer to 3 billion.

Airlines have and will continue to fold, and IATA thinks it will take around 4 years for the industry to recover once a viable testing or vaccine regime is in place. Others are not so pessimistic, believing that pent up passenger demand will allow the airlines to bounce back much quicker than that.

2PAXfly Takeout

I’m not convinced that testing alone is the answer, although it may be an interim measure. Testing is available now, but governments – including Australia’s – are not convinced that it provides a way to guarantee the safety of their citizens without the added safeguard of mandatory quarantine. In Australia that’s 14 days, although some would argue (mainly travel industry proponents) would argue that a shorter period – even down to 5 days is adequate.

Projecting my own sense of safety, I don’t think people will travel confidently until a vaccine is available, and even then, not until it is widely available, which will take 6 months or more from initial availability.

IATA is doing a great thing by cooperating with the World Health Organisation on a massive distribution program once the vaccines are available, although even that relies on the loosening of some border and travel restrictions.

Although vaccines are reporting effectiveness rates of between 60 and 95%, lets just remember that there are no long term studies about their effects. They won’t happen until the vaccines are available, and have been used for a year or two.

If I was a travel executive – I would be planning for the long haul, and with lots of contingencies. Think what will happen to the confidence in any or all of the vaccines if there is one unexplained child death due to their use.

Is an international Travel Pass for testing and vaccines a good idea? Certainly.

Will I be up the front of the queue once a vaccine is available? You bet!

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