ACCEPTING VACINATED TRAVELLERS – A GROWING TREND

The European Union governing body announced that after a fourth round of negotiations, EU member states have reached an interim agreement on a digital COVID-19 certificate, also known as ‘vaccine passport’, that would allow the free movement of tourists among the 27 European Union member countries this summer.

All European Union member states will accept the vaccine passport, valid for 12 months, although it will not be a prerequisite for free movement, according to a statement from the European Parliament.

Under the terms of the agreement, EU countries should not impose additional travel measures such as quarantines “unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health,” lawmakers said.

The vaccine passport will show whether people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and if they’ve recently tested negative or recovered from COVID-19 infection.

All European Union member countries must accept EU-approved vaccines under the deal, while it is up to each nation whether to allow the entry of travelers vaccinated with vaccines that haven’t yet been approved by the bloc’s drugs regulator.

The European Union’s executive has recommended that foreign citizens fully vaccinated against COVID-19 be allowed to travel into the bloc without additional restrictions.

“The (European) Commission proposes to allow entry to the EU for non-essential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine,” the executive arm said in a statement.

More than 20 countries have wholly or partially lifted restrictions for vaccinated travellers, the International Air Transport Association reported saying it indicates countries are making data and evidence-driven decisions to open their borders.

IATA supports unrestricted access to travel for vaccinated travellers. In cases where vaccination is not possible, access to quarantine-free travel should be provided through Covid-19 testing strategies based on widely available, free-of-charge tests.

Germany is among the latest countries to make quarantine alleviations for vaccinated travellers. Vaccinated travellers are no longer subject to quarantine measures (except in certain high-risk countries). Germany has also removed quarantine requirements for travellers with a negative Covid-19 test result (except in certain high-risk countries).

The German government decision followed a review of scientific advice from the world-renowned Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which concluded that vaccinated travellers are no longer significant in the spread of the disease and do not pose a significant risk to the German population. Specifically, it stated that vaccination reduces the risk of Covid-19 transmission to levels below the risk from a false negative rapid antigen test.

The implementation of this policy aligns Germany with recommendations from both the European Commission and the European Parliament, based on similar scientific advice from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC).

In its interim guidance on the benefits of full vaccination, the ECDC said that “based on the limited evidence available, the likelihood of an infected vaccinated person transmitting the disease is currently assessed to be very low to low.”

Similar conclusions are being reached on the other side of the Atlantic. In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) has noted that “with a 90% effective vaccine, pre-travel testing, post-travel testing, and 7-day self-quarantine provide minimal additional benefit.”

“A safe opening of borders to international travel is the goal. And scientific evidence and data such as that presented by RKI, ECDC and USC CDC should be the basis for the decision-making needed to achieve that. There is increasing scientific evidence that vaccination is not only protecting people but also dramatically reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

ACCEPTING VACINATED TRAVELLERS - A GROWING TREND

This is bringing us closer to a world where vaccination and testing enable the freedom to travel without quarantine. Germany and at least 20 other countries have already taken an important step forward in reopening their borders to vaccinated travellers. These are the best practice examples for others to quickly follow,” said IATA’s director general Willie Walsh.

According to the US CDC, alleviations from COVID-19 restrictions are a powerful motivator for vaccination, particularly in communities where vaccine hesitancy is prevalent. This is an additional and important benefit of restriction-free travel for those vaccinated. IATA polling indicates that 81% of international travellers are willing to get vaccinated in order to be able to travel. Moreover, 74% of people in the same poll agreed that those vaccinated should be able to travel by air without restrictions.

Decisions leading to more countries accepting vaccinated travellers without quarantine measures adds pressure for a digital solution to manage vaccine certificates and Covid-19 test results. Paper-based processes could lead to extremely long processing times at check-in and border control. They also open the door to fraud. Digital vaccine/test certificates, coupled with passenger apps such as the IATA Travel Pass, will be needed to manage travel health credentials efficiently and securely in the restart.

Recent IATA polling shows strong support for digital solutions.

89% supported globally standardised Covid-19 test or vaccination certifications.

84% want an app to manage their travel health credentials.

“A gap is opening up between countries responding to scientific evidence and those exhibiting a lack of preparation or excessive caution in reopening borders. Countries that seize the opportunity offered by the increasing numbers of vaccinated travellers can protect their populations and reap an economic reward,” said Walsh.