Compulsory COVID-19 vaccination for travel would distress aviation sector: WTTC

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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With the approval of the COVID-19 vaccine, a major debate has been ignited in the aviation sector on mandating vaccination for acquiring travel permits and the head of a leading travel forum says that doing so would cause irreversible harm to the struggling sector.

Gloria Guevara, head of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) says that “I don’t think governments will require vaccination next year for travel. If they do that they will kill their sector.”

The priority list for vaccination gives prime importance to elderly and vulnerable people and they are most likely travelling last. Instead, strengthening rules for virus testing before departure would be beneficial, Ms. Guevara added.

The aviation sector is one of the most adversely affected by the pandemic outbreak, with global airline lobby IATA forecasting combined losses of $157 billion this year and next. When the broader tourism sector is added to the tally, the impact rises to $3.8 trillion, Ms. Guevara said.

Last month, Alan Joyce, the chief executive officer of Qantas Airways Ltd., kick started the industry-wide debate, when he said proof of vaccination would be a condition for travelers entering or leaving Australia on the carrier’s planes. So far, no country has made inoculation compulsory for people crossing borders.

Ms. Guevara was speaking at an event organized by the Common Trust Network, a Swiss non-profit backed by the World Economic Forum that is initiating a digital health system called Common Pass designed to certify test results to reduce the risk of fraud.

The tourism-dependent Caribbean Island Aruba will start using the system in February to screen visitors, Dangui Oduber, minister for health, tourism and sport, said at the event. The island is also working on a project with JetBlue Airways Corp. for testing, but vaccination won’t be on the agenda for at least the first half of 2021, he added.

The use of digital systems to restore travel has shown different results, the Rome airport started a corridor with some U.S. destinations this month, but another one planned between Singapore and Hong Kong was postponed until next year amid increasing COVID-19 cases.

Besides Common Pass, IATA is working on its mobile app, the Travel Pass, and is planning a test program with British Airways parent IAG SA this year. The AOK pass from travel security firm International SOS is being used on flights between Abu Dhabi and Karachi and Islamabad in Pakistan.

“This humanitarian crisis, which also poses a significant risk to global supply chains, needs to be addressed in part through the introduction of internationally recognized certification of COVID-19 test results and vaccinations,” says Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation.