Many parts of the world are opening up their borders to American (and other foreign national) visitors. In November, African safari countries opened their borders and south American countries are doing the same, partly because of a fear of missing out on peak tourist season in the southern hemisphere.
Some countries have no travel restrictions for arrivals by foreign nationals (Tanzania, Brazil) whilst others require a negative PCR test within 48, 72 or 96 hours of arrival (Kenya, Belize, Chile). Others require quarantine (Rwanda is asking for 5 days) but access is open.
The EU, however, is still closing its borders further to try to curb the second wave of Covid-19 and many foreign nationals are still banned, except those on the approved EU travel list. This currently includes 9 countries outside the EU/Schengen area, of which, one is in the southern hemisphere–Rwanda, which has done well in keeping its Covid-19 infection rates low.
However, there is optimism this week with the commencement of trials of Covid-19-free planes between the U.S. and the U.K. There are two trials in operation–both of which are quite different, as reported by CNBC. There are also trials underway of a new health application to aid screening processes across borders.
Trial 1: United Airlines–Newark to London Heathrow
This trial is mandatory (all passengers who don’t want to participate in testing will be rebooked onto other flights).
Passengers, aged above 2 years old, are tested pre-flight at the airport before departures in a rapid Abbott ID Now test, which accurately diagnoses Covid-19 with people who have symptoms but is known to miss as many as one-third of asymptomatic infections. Testing is by appointment, 3 hours before the plane leaves and people receive the results 30 minutes later. If the results are negative, customers are rebooked on a flight at least 10 days later or refunded.
The trial will end after one month.
United Airlines has reported that there has been a positive response to the tests in that there has been a significant increase in revenue when testing has been available.
Trial 2: American Airlines and British Airways–Dallas, JFK, LA to Heathrow Airport
This trial is voluntary for passengers on these flights to Heathrow from 25 November onwards and involve three tests:
- Test 1: A self-administered RT-PCR (nasal) test taken at home via a virtual consultation with a medical professional 72 hours prior to departure.
- Test 2: A LAMP (nasal) test taken upon landing at Heathrow Airport.
- Test 3: A self-administered saliva test taken at home three days after arriving in the U.K.
The reason for the three tests is that they all offer differing levels of results at different times. The PCR test is the most reliable but needs to be processed in a lab. The LAMP test is quick, with a turnaround of 30 minutes so good for an airport setting but crucially, can corroborate findings with the PCR tests.
This trial will end after 500 customers have been tested.
Even if all tests are negative, passengers will still need to self-isolate in the U.K. as per current U.K. travel restrictions.
Janine Brown, an American Airlines’ communications manager told CNBC that “the trial is being conducted with the aim of showing that testing can play a role in reducing the need for quarantine.“
The U.K. government recently announced that it would like to move to reducing or eliminating quarantine in favour of airport testing.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, American Airlines and British Airways flew up to 111 flights a week between New York and London. Currently, they are operating 14 weekly flights.
Initiative 3: Common Pass
The three alliances, Oneworld, Star Alliance and SkyTeam, which represent 58 global airlines are also urging the use of Common Pass, a digital health passport system, as reported by AP. It is backed by the World Economic Forum and Swiss-based foundation The Commons Project and is crucially, a non-profit scheme.
The idea is that passengers get a COVID-19 test up to 72 hours before traveling, which are then uploaded into the Common Pass application on their phone via a certified laboratory. The app generates a code which can be checked by airline staff upon departure and border officials when they arrive.
United Airlines has started trialling the app.
It is hoped that these pilots of airport testing and health passports will convince government officials to safely reopen borders.