IATA: Data-driven decisions should manage border reopenings

Published June 3, 2021, 9:05 AM

by Emmie V. Abadilla

Governments must make data-driven decisions to allow tested or vaccinated persons to travel while avoiding quarantine measures for the rest, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged.
IATA teamed-up with Airbus and Boeing to develop data-driven risk-management models to keep populations safe from COVID-19 while restarting global connectivity.
The modeling revealed three key findings.
First, data showed there are screening protocols as effective as a 14-day quarantine.
Second, screening protocols lower the risk to the destination country.
Third, screening is most beneficial for travel from higher to lower prevalence areas.
Focusing on risks across the whole journey, Airbus considered more than 50 variables.
These include number of confirmed cases and fatalities per country, COVID-19 testing strategies, traffic statistics, flight length, time spent in airport terminals, provision of on-board catering and air conditioning.
They used current COVID-19 incidence data, excluding vaccinated travelers (which would only lower the risk of infections).
Results of the model were cross referenced against data collections from actual results and observations from travel.
Significantly, the Airbus model demonstrates that the risk of virus transmission can be significantly reduced by adopting data-driven screening and protection measures.
The Boeing modeling shows screening protocols offer an alternative to mandatory quarantines for many travel scenarios.
In their high to medium incidence model, they used Latin America & Caribbean (292 cases/100,000 population) to Canada (95 cases/100,000 population).
Assuming the same traffic as in 2019 and without any testing, the local incidence in Canada would increase by just over 1 case / 100,000 population due to the imported cases over 14 days.
With a single PCR test before travel, this number falls to less than 1 case/100,000 population.
The Medium to medium incidence model used Europe (111 cases/100,000 population) to US (81 cases/100,000 population).
Assuming the same traffic as in pre-COVID-19 and without any testing, the Airbus model predicts that air travel over 14 days would add less than 1 imported case/100,000 population to the local incidence in the US.
The medium to low incidence model used Europe (111 cases of COVID-19/100,000 population) to Singapore (8 cases/100,000 population).
Conservatively assuming the same traffic as in 2019 and without any testing, they predicted that over 14 days air travel would add over 1 imported case/100,000 population to the local incidence in Singapore.
With a PCR test before travel, this number falls to less than 1.
The model evaluates the effectiveness of passenger screenings and quarantines in countries around the world.
It accounts for various factors including COVID-19 prevalence rates between origin and destination countries, the efficacy of PCR and rapid antigen tests, and the disease timeline (how the disease progresses) for passengers traveling with COVID-19.
In the UK alone, almost 98% of those detained because of universal quarantine measures tested negative for the virus, cited IATA Director General Willie Walsh.
Data from the UK NHS regarding international travelers arriving in the UK (with no reference to vaccination status) shows that the vast majority of travelers pose no risk for the introduction of COVID-19 cases after arrival.
Only 2.2% tested positive for COVID-19 infection during universal quarantine measures after their arrival.
Of these, over half were from “red list” countries, which were considered very high risk.
Removing them from the statistics would result in test positivity of 1.46%.
“Many governments continue to require universal quarantine—either hotel-managed or self-managed. This impedes the freedom of movement, discourages international travel and destroys employment in the travel and tourism sector,” Walsh argued.
While “There is no one-size-fits-all solution to manage the various levels of risk, the economic and social cost of the blanket measures taken by most governments to date has been unnecessarily high.”
“With this modeling, we are demonstrating that we can be smart with calibrated travel policies that address the risks, enable travel, and protect people,” he explained.
“Everybody can respect a data-driven decision. That is the way back to normality,” Walsh reiterated.
“The first step is for governments to evaluate the threshold of risk of virus introduction that they can effectively manage,” suggested Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Then they need to identify with industry feasible strategies to enable an increase in international travel without exceeding those thresholds.
Already, Airbus, Boeing and IATA have demonstrated some possible solutions.
“Now we need more intense and transparent dialogue between governments and the airline industry to move from models to policy and ultimately facilitate international travel,” the professor concluded.