COVID travel passes launched for European countries
- Airlines urge G7 nations to replace current international travel restrictions with more flexible, data-driven measures
- British Airways trialling IATA travel pass for flights from London Heathrow to Geneva and Zurich
- EU travel announcement: COVID certificate launched in seven European countries
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will not hesitate to “tighten” traffic lights
Speaking during an online event on international travel, International Air Transport Association (IATA) Head Willie Walsh said that airlines and passengers should be allowed to determine the risks of travel based on health data and vaccination analysis.
The former British Airways boss said governments should allow European countries to reopen their borders due to the improved coronavirus situation in Europe and accelerating vaccine programme rollouts.
He insisted that with “sensible testing methods”, international travel should return to normal in the second half of the year – allowing tourists to “regain the freedom taken from them.”
Mr Walsh’s comments come ahead of a meeting of G7 leaders taking place in London between June 4th – 5th and a summit the following week.
Although emerging coronavirus variants threaten government plans to unlock the economy, most experts hope that the high number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100 people in developed nations will allow travel to remain open.
Airlines, airports and other tourism businesses have been plagued by months of coronavirus lockdowns, which has resulted in significant financial loss and major redundancies.
In the UK, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme has helped to prevent a wave of mass unemployment in the aviation sector. Still, with the scheme winding down to a close in the autumn and new variants threatening to derail UK economic recovery, the travel industry has urged the British government to consider alternative measures.
IATA, which has analysed UK testing data and revealed that there had been few incidences where British arrivals have returned from abroad carrying the virus, has proposed COVID travel passes.
British Airways trialling IATA travel pass
During a joint presentation with Airbus (AIR.PA) and Boeing (BA.N) representatives, IATA Head Willie Walsh said governments should consider implementing testing data and use artificial intelligence to monitor real-time risk rather than tighten border restrictions.
His comments come alongside news that British Airways is trialling IATA’s COVID vaccine passport on flights from London Heathrow to Geneva and Zurich in Switzerland to make travel “as frictionless as possible”, said Sean Doyle, BA chief executive.
Mr Doyle said that COVID-19 certificates would play a vital role in reassuring passengers as they travel abroad and streamline the process at airports to reduce queuing and delays.
Willie Walsh praised Greece for its more flexible coronavirus test and trace measures and urged other countries to follow suit.
The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) also appears to share Mr Walsh’s view, with members of the global business group condemning Britain for being “overly cautious.”
According to the WTCC, the UK risks “becoming increasingly isolated” due to its new traffic light system, which currently permits quarantine free travel to less than fifteen destinations.
Despite the increasing number of vaccinations in the UK and overseas, today, the British government decided to downgrade the only European-listed country – Portugal – to “amber” this week.
Currently, the green list includes:
- New Zealand
- Israel and Jerusalem
- Falkland Islands
- Faroe Islands
- South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
- St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
The WTTC called out the UK government for providing false hope, noting that airlines had increased capacity in anticipation of travel restarting and were left disappointed due to many countries on the “amber” and “red” lists.
Currently, passengers returning from amber-listed destinations must self-isolate at home for ten days and take two COVID tests, while arrivals from red-list countries are required to quarantine in government-designated hotels at the cost of GBP 1750 per person.
Although there have been reports of a surge in holiday bookings, data compiled by the WTTC has shown that bookings plummeted towards the end of last month. Concurrently, cancellations increased amid increased reports of the rapidly spreading Indian COVID variant.
After months of stop-and-start restrictions, the WTTC has urged the UK government to allow vaccinated travellers or those who can show proof of a negative test to holiday without limitation.
The global business group urged the UK government to relax travel restrictions further as more than 75% of the UK’s adult population has received their first COVID-19 dose, and 51% are fully vaccinated.
However, US-born epidemiologist David Heymann said that the UK government is right to be cautious as new emergent strains could evade some immunity and be resistant to COVID-19 vaccines.
Professor Heymann said, “governments would be concerned about new variants irrespective of what is shown in terms of models.”
Still, the WTTC warns that Britain’s aviation industry will lose its competitive edge if the current measures remain in place, especially if Europe reopens faster than the UK.
The WTTC’s warnings come as the European Commission announced that seven EU member states would launch the bloc’s digital COVID passport ahead of the scheduled July 1st date.
EU COVID certificate launches early for seven European countries
Earlier this week, the EU Commission announced that seven European countries would be launching the European Union’s new digital coronavirus passports a month earlier.
The new system has been introduced to facilitate safe travel by allowing border authorities to streamline the process for verifying whether a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested negative for the virus.
WTTC Senior VP Virginia Messina implied that the new digital passports would significantly boost these EU member states and the broader EU economy.
According to a New York (NY) Times report, the seven European countries trialling the new system in June are Germany, Denmark, Greece, Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland and the Czech Republic.
The NY Times noted that the digital gateway, which the EU created in just two months, will not store any data centrally to prevent a breach of EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules.
It also remains unclear whether the EU’s new digital COVID certification will extend to third-party countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the EU is believed to be engaged in negotiations with the US to reach a consensus.
Even if the UK was granted access to the scheme, hopes to travel to a greater choice of destinations were crushed today.
Grant Shapps confirms that Portugal has been removed from UK green list
On Thursday, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed that ministers had removed Portugal from Britain’s green list.
Mr Shapps told reporters that the Global Travel Taskforce (GTT) had decided to add Portugal to the “amber” list due to an uptick in the infection rate, fuelled by the growing spread of the Indian COVID variant in the country.
The news has delivered a significant blow to the UK aviation industry as many airlines had ramped up capacity to Portugal in anticipation of a summer booking boom to the holiday destination.
EasyJet was devastated by the news and released a statement saying, “the latest decision has essentially cut Britain off from the rest of the world.”
Airlines such as British Airways, Jet2, Ryanair and EasyJet have been ravaged by months of coronavirus lockdowns. Travel restrictions and financial challenges will only exacerbate if there is no travel reopening this summer.
No new countries were added to the new list either, despite speculation from experts that destinations such as Malta, Morocco, Finland, Jamaica and Barbados could make a feature.
Ministers also added seven destinations to Britain’s red list, which was already 43 countries strong. These were:
- Costa Rica
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad and Tobago
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has agreed to work on a blueprint to promote safe international travel during the coronavirus pandemic due to the dire state of the global travel industry.
During a meeting held in France, OECD ministers urged its members to utilise a temporary international cross-sectoral forum to share information on approaches for facilitating a safe return to the skies.