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Aviation report: COVID-19 transmission on board flights “very low”

EyeWitness News Local May 20, 2020 at 4:57 pm Royston Jones Jr.

Mass thermal scanning and touchless, biometric processes recommended at airports

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — As the aviation sector prepares to introduce new security and health standards for a phased reopening of air travel amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the risk of contracting the virus while on board an aircraft is “very low”.

While Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has said The Bahamas could further ease restrictions for international and commercial travel on or before July 1, at least one country in the region — St. Lucia — plans to reopen to visitors on June 4.

In its latest report, the IATA said: “Based on information we have analyzed, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 from one passenger to another passenger on board is very low.

“Possible reasons are that customers sit facing forward and not toward each other; seat backs provide a barrier; the use of HEPA filters and the direction of the air flow on board (from ceiling to floor), and the limited movement onboard aircraft once seated add to the onboard protection.

“As an added protection against possible in-flight transmission, IATA recommends the use of face coverings by travelers in situations where physical distancing cannot be maintained, including in flight.

“For these reasons, physical distancing on board (e.g. through blocked seats) is not necessary.

The IATA report released Tuesday, titled ‘Biosecurity for Air Transport: A roadmap to restarting Aviation’ represents the airline industry’s effort to outline the way forward to resuming operations with the highest safety standards.

It also recommended mass temperature screening at entry points, physical distancing in terminals and lounges, and the continued use of facial masks for passengers.

According to the Nick Careen, IATA senior vice president of airport, passenger, cargo and security, pandemic represents the “biggest challenge in commercial aviation’s history”.

He acknowledge there is no single measure that can mitigate all risks with restarting your travel, but implementation of a range of measures is the most effective way of balancing risk mitigation with the need to unlock economies and enable travel.

He noted to restore confidence in air travel and to ensure the sector does not become a vector for the spread of the virus, “temporary and significant change” in travel is necessary.

Borders across the globe have largely remain closed amid the pandemic.

Air travel has been limited to repatriations of citizens, emergencies, and transport of critical supplies and personnel.

According to the report, restarting the industry amid the current environment will require governments to assume broad new responsibilities in terms of assessing the health risks of travelers, as governments did for security following the terror attack of 9/11.

Among the recommendations was for health screening measures to be introduced as far upstream as possible so passenger can be empowered to take more control of their journey; and temporary multi-layered biosecurity.

It said before a passenger travels,  more details contact information should be obtained in electronic form through government portals in advance of travel should be collected for contact tracing purposes.

The report said: “IATA strongly recommends that states set up government Internet portals in order to collect the required passenger data. Using internet-based technology would allow the use of a wide range of devices for the data capture: computers, laptops, tablets, mobile phones, etc.”

It encouraged check-in be done in advance from home to minimize the time spent at the airport. It said to achieve this, governments should remove regulatory obstacles to enable mobile or home-printed boarding passes and electronic or home printed bag tags.

The IATA also suggested rapid COVID-19 tests be applied on entry to the terminal as soon as effective test that have been validated by the medical community has been developed.

Immunity

The report also explored immunity electronic passports, saying while it can pay an important role in facilitating air travel, the medical evidence on immunity from the virus is still inconclusive.

“At such time as the medical evidence supports the possibility of an immunity passport, we believe it is essential that a recognized global standard be introduced, and that corresponding documents be made available electronically,” IATA said.

The report also recommended self-service, touchless and biometric processes be used as much as possible to limit contact at all passenger touch points.

The boarding process is also expected to change with ensure distancing, especially during the early stages of restarting the industry.

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