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Governments should make data-driven decisions when reopening borders to international travel

Governments should make data-driven decisions when reopening borders to international travel
Governments should make data-driven decisions when reopening borders to international travel
Written by Harry Johnson

Data can and should drive policies on restarting global travel that manage COVID-19 risks to protect populations, revive livelihoods and boost economies.

  • The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) concluded that vaccinated travelers are no longer significant in the spread of the disease
  • 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 International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to make data-driven decisions to manage the risks of COVID-19 when reopening borders to international travel. Strategies without quarantine measures can enable international travel to restart with a low risk of introduction of COVID-19 to the travel destination. 

“Data can and should drive policies on restarting global travel that manage COVID-19 risks to protect populations, revive livelihoods and boost economies. We call on the G7 governments meeting later this month to agree on the use of data to safely plan and coordinate the return of the freedom to travel which is so important to people, livelihoods and businesses,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General.

Vaccinated Travelers

Evidence continues to show that vaccination protects travelers from serious illness and death, and carries a low risk of introducing the virus into destination countries: 

  • 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. 

Testing for Unvaccinated Travelers

A challenge is the potential of barriers to travel for unvaccinated people which would create an unacceptable exclusion. 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.

  • Between 25 February and 5 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.