Air Travel is Possible Despite a PHEIC

기사승인 2020.06.15  01:07:52


The World Health Organization declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern when a disease has the risk of becoming a pandemic which requires a coordinated international response. Upon this declaration, countries are expected to mobilize vital resources such as medical equipment to readily address the challenge. However, due to prevailing uncertainties—especially for novel diseases like COVID-19—countries take precautionary measures and end up imposing total ban of flights into their country. However, research conducted after the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa demonstrated that air travel ban was not only ineffective in preventing spread of the disease, but at times, also problematic as it kept vital humanitarian assistance from reaching the epidemic. As a result, the ban in air travel provided conditions for the outbreak to escalate. We should consider the fact that commercial air travel provides the easiest and most efficient means of shuttling aid workers, specialists, doctors, and other response teams quickly to the needed zones across the globe**.

The rate of emerging infectious diseases has increased over the last decade with COVID-19 being the latest. The current concern is not whether another epidemic will occur, but rather what should be done when it happens. Usually, there are challenges in diagnosis and identifying the mode of spread of these diseases at their initial stages, which lead to a disruption of normal activities such as air travel. Once these concerns have been addressed, guidelines need to be put in place for the resumption of air travel. There is a need for countries and multilateral organizations to partner with the private sector to devise concrete approaches that ensure means of delivering needed human resources and equipment to the affected areas. As we cannot determine when the pandemic will end due to rising infection cases and the possibility of other diseases becoming endemic, we need to actively seek ways to ensure air travel.
To address these concerns, countries should implement systems to test their citizens against infectious diseases once a diagnostic procedure has been made available. This is necessary as the disease poses a transmission risk not only to other travelers but also to the people at their destination countries. To ensure that screening is effective, it would be necessary for travelers to a common destination to be quarantined, tested, and issued a certificate before travel. This calls for a public-private partnership to come up with adequate quarantine facilities for travelers waiting clearance from the country’s health authorities. Competent authorities must approve and run the standard design and operating procedures of such facilities while also sharing information about these measures with other countries. This will prevent negative social and economic impact which is being experienced in most developing countries without such facilities. These measures will be especially helpful for countries like Seychelles, half of whose GDP depend on tourism, and Mexico which has witnessed massive job losses as more than 4000 hotels, 2000 restaurants, and other commercial facilities have been shut down.
The establishment of these facilities and procedures will ensure free movement of people between countries like Jordan and India that have already imposed total ban on passenger flights. This alleviates pressure from the recipient country to monitor the health of tourists. However, to realize these milestones, public health campaigns should be carried out to create awareness for travelers so that they can embrace the idea. Despite the extra costs, this is necessary as it will have great benefits in the long run as traveler’s arrangements will be free from uncertainty. For instance, Denmark and Norway have already finalized how tourists will travel between them while the Korean government has implemented guidelines for incoming travelers such as rapid testing and quarantine which have proved effective.
As air travel plays a critical role in responding to epidemics, we should make it possible with necessary safeguards that effectively screen and test travelers. Concerted efforts should be employed to ensure that disruptions are minimal as possible.
*Mr. Job Nyambane Onkoba is an unaffiliated contributor for The Yonsei Annals.
**Harvard Public Health Review


Job Nyambane Onkoba

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