Future Of Travel – Reopening Of Borders To International Tourists

Although increasing numbers of countries have either started to welcome international tourists or have announced plans to do so. There are however many countries, including those very popular with tourists, that have yet to confirm any plans.

Main picture a passport being presented to border officials credit Agus Dietrich on Unsplash

The international tourism industry, and some consumers, have increased calls to allow the restart of travel, without significant restrictions.

“COVID-19 is something that we need to learn to manage, like we do other risks to health. We accept many things in society that we know come with risks—from consuming alcoholic beverages to how we drive. We don’t ban these activities. We have some common-sense rules and the information needed to make sensible decisions about how to manage these risks. The post-pandemic future means doing the same for COVID-19 so we can all get on with our lives. There is no completely risk-free protocol. Vaccination will play a big role. And the data we have tells us that screening and testing protocols can make travel safely accessible for all.”

Willie Walsh, Director General IATA

“Government policies are naturally risk averse. By contrast, the private sector has great experience in managing risks every day to deliver its products and services.

COVID-19 now appears to be becoming endemic. This means that COVID-19 is not likely to disappear anytime soon, so governments and industry must work together to rebuild global connectivity while managing the associated risks.

The first step is for governments to evaluate the threshold of risk of virus introduction that they can effectively manage. Then they need to identify with industry feasible strategies to enable an increase in international travel without exceeding those thresholds. 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.”

Professor David Heymann, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Vaccinations Required To Travel?

Countries are tentatively reopening their borders to international tourists and many are only doing so for vaccinated travellers or are requiring additional safety measures, including quarantine for those not vaccinated.

The Phuket Sandbox, for example, which launches on 1st July will allow quarantine-free travel for tourists who have received Covid-19 vaccines. Those who are not vaccinated will still need to complete a mandatory quarantine.

Man with band-aid following vaccination credit CDC on Unsplash

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is putting pressure on more governments to open their borders. They have provided a series of evidence that vaccination protects travellers from serious illness and death, and carries a low risk of introducing the virus into destination countries. Their argument includes:

  • The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) concluded that vaccinated travelers are no longer significant in the spread of the disease and do not pose a major risk to the German population.
  • The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) issued interim guidance on the benefits of full vaccination stating that “the likelihood of an infected vaccinated person transmitting the disease is currently assessed to be very low to low.”
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) stated that “with a 90% effective vaccine, pre-travel testing, post-travel testing, and 7-day self-quarantine provide minimal additional benefit.”
  • The Canadian Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel recommends that vaccinated travelers do not need to be quarantined.
  • A Public Health England study has concluded that two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against COVID-19 variants of concern.

The concern continues however that travellers who have not been vaccinated will be penalised by either being prevented to travel at all, or being required to complete a quarantine period, which may also stop them travelling.

We would love to hear your questions on the Future of Travel. We will answer as many as we can in the final part of the series. Contact us or add a comment below.

IATA have highlighted data from the UK NHS regarding international travellers arriving in the UK (with no reference to vaccination status) shows that the vast majority of travellers pose no risk for the introduction of COVID-19 cases after arrival. Their evidence was that:

  • Between 25th February and 5th May 2021, 365,895 tests were conducted on arriving passengers to the UK. These were PCR negative before travel. 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%.
  • Of the 103,473 arrivals from the EU (excluding Ireland), 1.35% tested positive. Three countries, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania, accounted for 60% of the positive cases.
Man showing IATA Travel Pass and passport to official credit IATA

“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.

Data from the UK tells us that we can and must do better.

Almost 98% of those detained because of universal quarantine measures tested negative for the virus.

We now have more than a year of global data that can help governments make more targeted decisions on international travel. This can keep the risk of importing COVID-19 cases low—including variants of concern—while restarting international travel with minimal infringement on the ability to live normal work and social lives. Importantly, lives that include travel.”

Willie Walsh, Director General IATA

Quarantine

Countries that have started to reopen to international tourists have implemented a range of measures to try and mitigate the risk of travellers bringing Covid-19 with them.

Typical measures are pre-departure testing, and commonly arrival testing, with some form of quarantine.

Quarantine measures have included between 7 and 21 days, sometimes in approved hotels, other areas have created specific quarantine centres and others have insisted on hospital stays for everyone. Costs incurred, almost without exception, have been passed on to travellers.

This has been a major disincentive to travel and countries have found that their tourist targets have been missed as the majority of travellers do not want to incur any quarantine period. Some destinations, the Maldives for example, have bucked the trend as many tourists have always spent much of their time “in resort”.

Airbus Modeled Whole Journey Risk

Focusing on risks across the whole journey, Airbus considered more than 50 variables (such as 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) in its model. Assumptions for the model are based on over a dozen data sources (including US CDC and the World Health Organization). And results of the model were cross referenced against data collections from actual results and observations from travel. Using current COVID-19 incidence data and not making any consideration for vaccinated travelers (which would only lower the risk of infections), example findings include:

  • High to medium incidence – 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, we expect that 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.
  • Medium to medium incidence – 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.
  • Medium to low incidence – 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, we predict 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 Airbus model—designed to support government stakeholders to reopen air travel—demonstrates that the risk of virus transmission and translocation can be significantly reduced by adopting data-driven screening and protection measures.

Boeing Modeled the Efficacy of Testing Strategies

Boeing modeling and analysis shows screening protocols offer an alternative to mandatory quarantines for many travel scenarios.

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.

Man receiving nasal swab test credit Raimond Spekking on Wikimedia Commons

The modeling revealed several key findings:    

  • Data show there are screening protocols (noted below) as effective as a 14-day quarantine
  • Screening protocols lower the risk to the destination country
  • Screening is most beneficial for travel from higher to lower prevalence areas

Rapid, accurate tests are being developed and trialed around the world.
Singapore has approved two, one provisionally, reathalyser tests that aim to provide a result in less than a minute at a much lower cost than existing test..

The passenger screening model and findings were validated using actual travel testing data from Iceland and Canada. Boeing is now modeling scenarios with vaccinated travelers. As data on new COVID-19 variants becomes available, it will also be incorporated in the model.

Coming Next

In the final part of this series we will answer your questions on the Future of Travel.

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