A global health public crisis continues. Despite the slight signs of improvement towards the end of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified across the globe alongside the spread of new and more aggressive variants of the virus. The resurgence of cases and fatalities has prompted governments to reintroduce strict lockdowns, border closures as well as travel restrictions, resulting in even larger social and economic ramifications than initially predicted. Globally, the recovery of air transport has virtually stalled, severely hampered by the renewed outbreaks, consequential patchworks of travel restrictions including quarantine requirements, and wavering travellers’ confidence.
On the upside, a foreseeable horizon to the end of the crisis has been shaped by favorable news on the substantial progress in the development of vaccines, their approval and distribution. Aviation plays a crucial role in the safe, quick and efficient transportation of vaccines worldwide. In awaiting the vaccination of a large majority of the global population, States may need to resort to other mechanisms to restore the flow of people and goods as well as business activities while remaining compliant with the public health risk management frameworks in place.
New and updated guidance. The ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) reconvened in early 2021 to review and update its guidance for States to counter the headwinds and accelerate the momentum for aviation restart and recovery. As a “living document”, the CART guidance can only be of a transient nature. Following the emergence of virus variants, progress in vaccine rollouts and new tools for combating COVID-19, the work of CART has targeted specific issues related to testing and vaccination of passengers as part of a State’s multilayer risk management strategy. CART also took into account the position of the World Health Organization (WHO) that “national authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements of proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry".
As part of CART endeavors, the third edition of the Take-off: Guidance for Air Travel through the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis (TOGD), originally issued in June 2020 and revised in November 2020, provides latest operational and public health guidance related to air travel reflecting technological and medical advancements. The recommended multi-layer risk management strategy has been supplemented with considerations on testing protocols and proof-of-results certification interoperability, as well as evidence of vaccination for crew and passengers. The guidance on Public Health Corridors (PHCs) and appropriate masks for air travel was also updated.
Furthermore, the Manual on Testing and Cross-Border Risk Management Measures (Doc 10152, referred to hereinafter as “the Manual”), issued in November 2020, was revised in close collaboration with the Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA). This second edition of the Manual provides detailed guidance on risk management and PHCs, information on recent scientific developments regarding COVID-19 testing, as well as a new section on vaccination and its interdependencies with other tools of a State’s multilayer risk management framework.
Call to action for States. The COVID-19 crisis has required States to confront difficult tradeoffs associated with health, economic and social challenges. The resources available in response to emergency needs are often limited and characterized by high political pressure and urgency. Recognizing that health is the overriding priority, States should take into consideration aviation’s crucial role in the fight against the pandemic when defining their national policy and spending priorities. Global supply chains, emergency and humanitarian responses and the swift distribution of the vaccine rely predominantly on air transport. Beyond that, aviation can stimulate recovery and growth of national economies by acting as an enabler and multiplier of economic activity. Authorities responsible for civil aviation are, therefore, called upon to ensure that the guidance presented here is used in national decision-making processes.