IATA has highlighted research findings that quarantine effectively shuts down passenger demand for air travel, and is urging governments to adopt a variety of alternative measures to minimise the risk of importing coronavirus via infected passengers.

The airline association’s proposed framework consists of measures to prevent sick people from traveling and to mitigate the risk of transmission should a passenger discover they have Covid-19 after their arrival.

“Imposing quarantine measures on arriving travellers keeps countries in isolation and the travel and tourism sector in lockdown,” says IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. “Fortunately, there are policy alternatives that can reduce the risk of importing Covid-19 infections while still allowing for the resumption of travel and tourism that are vital to jump-starting national economies.”

Key to IATA’s strategy is discouraging people with symptoms from travelling. Airlines can assist with this by allowing customers the flexibility to rebook if they become ill or are exposed to the virus. Health declarations can also be a tool to conduct screening, along with temperature checks. IATA argues that temperature checks are non-intrusive and act as a deterrent to passengers who may be tempted to travel while unwell, thus helping to shore up passenger confidence.

IATA says 80% of surveyed travellers indicated that such checks improved their feeling of safety.

The association is also urging governments to consider coronavirus testing for travellers from countries with high rates of new infections. It recommends that these take place prior to arrival at their departure airport, to avoid congestion and the potential for contagion.

For cases where an infected person does travel, IATA underlines the importance of following its guidelines to mitigate the risk of transmission on board, including mask-wearing, sanitisation, health declarations, and social distancing where possible. Contact tracing and measures to reduce the transmission rate in tourism hotspots should also be adopted.

IATA says these measures would allow the global economy to reopen, and notes that tourism alone is responsible for around 10% of GDP and 300 million jobs.

Quarantine is effectively a travel ban, IATA contends, citing research that found 83% of travellers would not even consider travelling if quarantines were in force. Analysis of quarantines shows that imposing such measures results in arrivals decreasing by 90%, a similar figure to when foreign arrivals are banned.

“Safely restarting the economy is a priority,” says de Juniac. “That includes travel and tourism. Quarantine measures may play a role in keeping people safe, but they will also keep many unemployed. The alternative is to reduce risks through a series of measures.

“Airlines are already offering flexibility so there is no incentive for sick or at-risk people to travel. Health declarations, screening, and testing by governments will add extra layers of protection. And if someone travels while infected, we can reduce the risk of transmission with protocols to prevent the spread during travel or when at destination.”