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COVID-19 quarantine for travellers is 'not effective', EU health agency says

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The empty departure information board at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, on June 3, 2020.
The empty departure information board at the airport in Duesseldorf, Germany, on June 3, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Forcing air travellers to quarantine is "not recommended" as it is not an "effective public health measure", the EU's health agency has said.

New guidelines from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), stressed that "the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in travellers is estimated likely to be lower than the prevalence in the general population or among contacts of confirmed cases."

According to the guidelines, the prevalence of COVID-19 among travellers is believed to be at less than 1 per cent.

"Available evidence does not support quarantine and testing of travellers as an effective public health measure which will substantially reduce overall transmission in the general population.

"In the current epidemiological situation, quarantine or systematic testing for SARS-CoV-2 air travellers is not recommended," it added.

The joint report argued that travellers should not be treated "as a high-risk population" unless they had been known contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case and that they should therefore be subjected to the same rules as the local population.

'Abolish quarantine'

The European office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) also said on Thursday that it does "not recommend testing as a means to prevent transmission across borders."

"What we do recommend is that countries look at the data on transmission both within their countries and beyond their borders and adjust travel guidance accordingly," Dr Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency office with WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, said in a response to a Euronews question.

"The other key component is of course to prevent people who are isolated because they are COVID patients or to prevent people who are in quarantine because they've been exposed to a case from travelling at all and that is of crucial importance here," she added.

The Airports Council International (ACI) Europe, an aviation industry trave association, has welcomed the report and urged member states "to immediately abolish quarantine measures and other travel restrictions".

They said in a statement that quarantine and other COVID-19 travel restrictions have led to "unprecedented limitations to the freedom of movement and the freedom to provide services" — European air passenger traffic plunged by 91 per cent in the second quarter of the year compared to the same period in 2019.

The body said that "a more harmonised, coordinated approach" is needed at the European level in order to "increase clarity and predictability" for travellers and to boost the sector.

ACI Europe instead backs rapid testing.

'EU-wide approach is key'

The guidelines for the aviation industry were released on the same day the European Commission unveiled its "Staying safe from COVID-19 during winter" strategy.

Brussels emphasised that "a coordinated EU-wide approach is key" to avoid another flare-up of the deadly pandemic over the holiday period.

On the issue of travel, which is expected to increase across the region in the run-up to Christmas and New Year's Eve, the Commission said that quarantine requirements "may take place when the epidemiological situation in the region of origin is worse than the destination".

The EU executive body has been calling for a harmonised approach for months but member states have, for the most part, implemented their own travel restrictions for people coming from either inside or outside the bloc.

In France, where ski resorts won't be able to operate lifts over the festive season, President Emmanuel Macron has warned that "restrictive and dissuasive measures" to prevent people from going to neighbouring countries to ski would be imposed.

The comment has been ill-received in Switzerland and Austria which are allowing their ski resorts to operate over the end-of-year holidays and had therefore hoped to welcome French customers.