ACI World urges review of Covid-19 testing of visitors from China

Pressure mounts on European Union to review ‘fruitless’ restrictions
/ New Delhi
ACI World urges review of Covid-19 testing of visitors from China

The bodies have all criticised the governments for reinstituting measures that have already proven to be ineffective

With the ACI World joining the debate over the ineffectiveness of reintroduction of Covid-19 restrictions on visitors from China by various governments, pressure mounts for a quick U-turn on the restrictions that could threaten to derail the global economic recovery and put the world back in the situation prevailing in 2020.
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Airports Council International (ACI) World the largest body of airport operators around the world, has called on governments globally to take a coordinated and risk-based approach when managing inbound travellers from China, following the implementation of travel restrictions by several countries. With this, ACI World has joined the long list of international organisations criticising the hurried response by numerous countries as soon as China reopened its frontiers to travel days earlier.

The bodies have all criticised the governments for reinstituting measures that have already proven to be ineffective and even counter-productive, while threatening the global economy and tourism sector which are still recovering from the blunders of 2020-22.

“We can’t repeat past mistakes. We are working with ICAO and other international organizations to protect connectivity – which is vital to fully restoring travel, trade, and tourism that provide economic and social benefits to communities worldwide,’’ says ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira.

“As such, we welcome the Government of China’s plan to lift Covid-19 quarantine requirements for international arrivals. As the last major economy in the world to re-open its borders, the decision represents a key milestone in the recovery of air travel. We now call on them to go further and re-assess their testing requirements as well,’’ says de Oliveira.

“In order to ensure the smooth recovery of air traffic and the benefits this brings, cooperation and the establishment of standards through ICAO, WHO and others that harmonise the processes for international travel between countries are crucial. Several States are now reactively re-introducing Covid-19 testing and other health measures for travellers from China. ACI World strongly reiterates that if any health-related travel measures are deemed necessary, that they be risk- and evidence-based. It is imperative for governments to have a harmonized response and to coordinate this response with other countries and aviation stakeholders. Let’s not take two steps backwards but continue to move forward with the valuable lessons learned from the past,” he adds.

Meanwhile, airlines represented by Airlines for Europe (A4E) and International Air Transport Association (IATA), have also criticised the recommendation agreed jointly by European Union member states that requires a negative Covid-19 test for passengers travelling between China and the EU.

The bodies say that such a recommendation is at odds with the assessment published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control(ECDC) on January 3, 2023, which confirms that the current surge of Covid-19 cases in China is not expected to impact the epidemiological situation in the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA).

‘‘This is because the Covid-19 variants circulating in China are already present in the EU/EEA, as well as the higher immunity acquired by the population of the EU. As such, systematically testing incoming travellers from China cannot be considered a scientifically driven and risk-based measure,’’ the organisations say in a statement.

Instead, A4E, ACI Europe, IATA and ACI World support getting away from testing passengers as a way to track Covid-19. In this regard, the recommendation to test wastewater from airports and aircraft arriving from China offers an alternative. This must, however, come with detailed consideration of technical and operational practicalities before any decision is taken to deploy wastewater sampling at airports and aircraft.

When required, airports and airlines will do their utmost to facilitate such sampling on the understanding that it needs to be carried out by the competent health authorities, as airport and airline staff are not qualified to do so, they said.

‘‘While it is regrettable that the recommendations agreed yesterday largely amount to a knee-jerk reaction, it is now vital that they are implemented by EU member states in a fully uniform manner – in full compliance with the addendums to the EU Aviation Health Safety Protocol to be published in the coming days by EASA and ECDC. These addendums will provide detailed guidance regarding passenger testing and wastewater testing,’’ they said in the statement.

They added that they look forward to further engaging with the EU on the reassessment of these recommendations by mid-January 2023. ‘‘We urge EU member states and China to work together and to reconsider at the earliest opportunity their requirements for systematic pre-departure testing of travellers based on a scientifically driven risk assessment,’’ the statement said.

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