BANGKOK, 7 December 2020: Asia’s top travel trade
associations are calling on the region’s governments to adopt measures outlined
in an ICAO manual to ease quarantine rules that are crippling tourism
economies.

Backing the call for action the following associations signed off on the Open Letter: Association of Asia Pacific Airlines; Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association; International Air Transport Association; Pacific Asia Travel Association and Airports Council International.

They are asking governments to recognise that the ICAO manual offers an alternative path to quarantine measures that could save jobs and livelihoods.

The five association CEOs penned an Open Letter to
Asia-Pacific Ministers of Health, Transport, Tourism, Interior, and Foreign
Affairs over the weekend asking them to adopt the International Civil Aviation
Organisation’s “Risk Assessment and Testing Framework instead of
quarantine.”

“As the collective voice representing the tourism,
airline, airport and the retail travel sectors in the Asia-Pacific region, we
respectfully call upon your Ministry/Authority to fully implement the guidance
and recommendations contained in ICAO’s Testing and Cross-border Risk
Management Measures Manual, a risk-based assessment tool for programmes that
could reduce quarantine measures, which are viewed as the primary disincentive
to international travel.”

It is arguably the first example of the five top travel trade associations joining forces to present their case to government in the Asia Pacific. They are recommending governments to adopt a single set of measures that could replace quarantine and provide more clarity for travel consumers.  The timing is right as countries are now presenting timetables for the introduction of vaccines possibly by mid-2021. The UK that introduced the first batch of 800,000 vaccine doses last week while experts are now cautiously optimistic there is now a light at the end of the tunnel.

The joint statement reads: “As States in the
Asia-Pacific region begin taking cautious steps towards easing travel
restrictions, consistency and harmonisation in cross-border travel protocols
taken by States are key to the restoration of public confidence and a sustained
and effective recovery of the air transport and tourism sectors.”

Developed by aviation health experts led by ICAO in
conjunction with the United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
the European Centre for Prevention and Disease Control, and the World Health
Organization, the ICAO Manual provides an internationally-agreed framework for
States to mitigate the risk of transmissions with COVID-19 testing as part of a
multilayer risk management strategy to reduce or eliminate quarantines,
whenever justified by an accurate risk-assessment. 

Notably, the ICAO Manual provides clear guidance on how to limit the use of quarantine, depending on the risk tolerance estimated by each country and on the estimated risk of translocation of COVID-19 from one State to another. 

The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) estimates that
globally 46 million jobs are now at risk because of the closure of
international borders and travel restrictions imposed because of this crisis.
The air transport sector which accounts for 3.1% of Asia-Pacific GDP and
supports nearly 50 million jobs, urgently needs regional coordination
mechanisms to overcome the unprecedented damage to the travel and tourism
sectors, including the widespread loss of livelihoods in many communities
across the region.

The joint statement says: “These alarming figures serve
as a stark reminder to the urgency of safely re-opening borders and
re-establishing global connectivity through a calibrated multilayer risk
strategy that includes testing of passengers and the potential alleviation of
quarantines for travellers at their destinations.” 

Manual takeaways

“In applying the risk assessment, States should
consider their risk tolerance and the risks posed by the travel, and how
different mitigation measures may reduce that risk. If travel is from an area
of low prevalence to one of high prevalence, then the value of quarantine as a
measure may diminish.

“In situations where travel is between two countries
with similar levels of transmission in the community, any travellers who tested
Covid-19 negative upon departure would be a lower statistical risk than the
non-tested people in communities in either country. Travellers that have been
Covid-19 tested negative should be subject to no more restrictions than the
people resident in the community at the destination.

“While quarantine can have the highest impact when
travel is from an area of high community transmission to a place of low
community transmission, the introduction of testing could reduce the risk of
translocation and the duration of the quarantine. There is evidence to show
that tests reduce the risk of an undetected positive case by some degree and
that a second test (in combination with a period of quarantine) further reduces
that risk.”

Signing off the associations said: We respectfully urge
resolute action by your Government working with other States in the
Asia-Pacific region and the industry to implement globally-harmonised
cross-border measures, including a systematic approach to Covid-19 testing that
will ensure safe, smooth and sustainable air transport, as well as quicken the
pace of the restart of travel and tourism.”