As airlines around the world suffer drastic cutbacks in capacity because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has infected hundreds of thousands and killed more than 4,000 people, the head of the main trade group for Asian airlines has called on governments globally to rethink the use of travel bans as a way to curb the spread of the virus.
Andrew Herdman, the outgoing director general of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines (AAPA), said in a statement Thursday (12 March) that the ban on people travelling will have little effect because the World Health Organisation (WHO) says the virus is being spread more widely because of local transmissions as opposed to “imported cases”.
Herdman issued the association’s statement just hours before US President Donald Trump banned all travel from Europe for 30 days, although he restricted the ban to mainland Europe and said the travel ban does not apply to the UK. In a rare address from the Oval Office, Trump said the European Union had “failed to take the same precautions” as the US had implemented to contain the coronavirus outbreak by curtailing travel from certain Chinese cities and other jurisdictions where the virus has been widespread. The ban on travel to and from Europe will go into effect Friday (13 March) at midnight US Eastern time.
Trump, who has a demonstrated disdain for science, claimed in his Oval Office speech that the US travel ban on Europe would curtail the spread of the virus in the US and claims the travel ban on China was effective in slowing the disease’s progress. That doesn’t square with a recent report in Science Magazine that showed travel restrictions will have “modest effects” in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
The report’s authors concluded “that even in the presence of the strong travel restrictions in place to and from mainland China since 23 January 2020, a large number of individuals exposed to the (COVID-19 virus) have been traveling internationally without being detected.”
Speaking of quarantines and travel bans, Tom Inglesby, director of the Centre for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told STAT magazine that “we should do what we can to understand their effectiveness, because (travel restrictions) may be considered again in this epidemic and in future epidemics…It’s important to know not only if they worked in some way but also to gauge if they did harm…I haven’t seen anything that says the overall number of people infected in the world will be less” with quarantines and travel bans.
WHO has repeatedly advised against travel or trade restrictions as such measures are generally ineffective, AAPA said in its statement, adding that “travel restrictions cause significant disruptions to supply chains, commerce, trade and most importantly to peoples’ livelihoods due to the severe economic impact”.
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“The airline industry is fully committed to the safety and well-being of the travelling public,” Herdman said in the AAPA statement. “Asia-Pacific airlines are well-equipped to handle health crises and are strictly following established guidelines developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), in consultation with the WHO and Airports Council International (ACI), covering the management of public health risks.
“However, the proliferation of travel restrictions worldwide, and insufficient adherence to the (International Health Regulations ) are imposing enormous costs on society with little or no public health benefits,” Herdman added. “AAPA appreciates the leadership of WHO on this issue and calls on governments to fundamentally reconsider the rationale for such travel restrictions and measures, taking into account the disruption caused to people’s livelihoods and the negative repercussions to the wider economy.”
AAPA said in its statement that medical experts have stated that air travel is safe “to date, we are not aware of any reports of COVID -19 infections attributed to in-flight transmission. Given that the COVID-19 outbreak is now progressing across the globe, it is time for a fundamental rethink on travel restrictions”.
While AAPA says air travel is safe, more and more companies are implementing their own corporate travel restrictions to keep their employees safe. One of those is Boeing, where at least one employee has contracted the virus and CEO David Calhoun and Chief Financial Officer Greg Smith announced the plane maker would be limiting corporate travel to “business-critical activities only”.
The Boeing officials said in the memo that the company was facing “a global economic disruption generated by the COVID-19 coronavirus”. To deal with the outbreak, Boeing said it is:
- Limiting travel and discretionary spending to business-critical activities only.
- Limiting overtime to critical 737 MAX return-to-service support and other key efforts in support of customers.
- Pausing or placing on hold any new personnel requisitions at this time, pending a review of priorities and critical needs.
Boeing is also reportedly planning to draw down on a more than US$13 billion loan it secured in January earlier than expected as the spread of the coronavirus roils markets. The funding was a delayed-draw loan, meaning Boeing could secure the funding but would tap into it later. The early drawdown on the loan was earlier reported by Bloomberg News.