By Monday Ukoha
The impact of the COVID 19 has no doubt devastated the aviation industry across the world and Africa in particular where airlines had several pre-COVID 19 challenges. The expectation was that by early 2021 the world could witness a quick end to the pandemic and a return to normalcy especially with the certification of vaccines late 2020. However, mutations and variants of the virus have presented a new set of challenges to the industry,the result of which has seen some countries witnessing second lockdowns and implementing other measures, which have pushed further afield the recovery period for the air transport industry.
Inspite of unilateral decisions, testing and vaccinations amongst other measures continue to be applied across countries as essential to maintaining air transport connectivity. The consensus in the industry is that it will take a coordinated approach to restore air travel to existing levels before COVID 19.
It is therefore worrisome that there are suggestions that vaccination certificates and proof of receiving particular vaccines from certain countries could become mandatory requirements for travelling to some jurisdictions. While this presents a quick fix to some countries to restart tourism and air travel, it hampers the uniform restoration of air transport across the world.
The sad reality is that the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines has progressed inequitably across regions with Africa and Asia vaccinating fewer percentages of their populations. While some countries have vaccinated over half of their populations, some countries in Africa are barely starting to vaccinate. Furthermore, it is projected that, in most of Africa, full vaccination of citizens who wish to take the vaccine may not happen until after 2022.
Therefore, it comes as a deep reliefto industry groups the recommendation of ICAO in its latest Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce guidance that vaccination certificate should not be a prerequisite for air travel. This is in line with the stance of African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and the International Air Transport Association(IATA).
In his recent interaction with the media the immediate past Director General of the International Air Transport Association-IATA, Mr. Alexander de Juniac, says IATA is not recommending a mandatory vaccine certificate as a prerequisite for air travel, not only for countries where vaccination is slow but also for individuals that do not want to receive the vaccination.
Furthermore, the IATA’s Travel Pass, if adopted by airlines and countries will remove the cumbersome multiple testing requirements and offer another layer of incentives to fast-track air transport recovery.
As IATA’s latest survey has shown, the appetite for air travel has remains strong . So, it would be necessary to ensure that actions taken by governments do not hamper the recovery of air transport.
The use of mandatory vaccination will reduce access and impact negatively on travelers from Africa and other countries with low access to the vaccines. The combination of testing and vaccination among globally agreed measures remain the best way to fast track air travel restoration.