Airlines urge G7 to back data-driven travel reopening

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: British tourists return to Portugal

PARIS (Reuters) -Global airlines urged the G7 rich nations on Wednesday to replace blanket COVID-19 travel curbs with more flexible restrictions informed by data, artificial intelligence and risk analysis.

Willie Walsh, head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), also said during an online event that airlines and passengers should be allowed to assess travel risks based on increasingly abundant health data.

The former British Airways head said he was confident Europe could begin to return to normal travel in the second half of the year as vaccination rates rise.

"With sensible testing and screening methods in place we can safely open our borders to regain the freedom that has been taken from us," he said.

Ministers and officials from G7 countries are meeting in London on June 4-5 ahead of a leaders' summit next week.

Airlines weakened by 15 months of lockdowns are facing a slower than expected recovery, as lingering travel restrictions overshadow the peak northern summer season. Concern over the spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants also threatens to slow reopening plans.

IATA drew on UK testing data that showed a low incidence of COVID-19 in arriving passengers, during the joint presentation with Airbus and Boeing representatives, who demonstrated digital travel risk models.

"These data tell us we can do better," Walsh said, citing a 2.2% positive rate among 365,895 tests carried out in February-May, according to the National Health Service - or 1.46% excluding higher-risk "red list" countries.

Walsh also singled out Greece, which has largely reopened to foreign tourists, for its use of testing data and artificial intelligence to monitor risk in real time.

"We're seeing more and more countries questioning whether they have the appropriate measures in place," he said.

But David Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, sounded a note of caution.

"What's really set off governments is the variants, and the fear they will escape the protection offered by vaccines," he said during the same event.

"No matter what you show in terms of models they're still going to be concerned about the variants."

(Reporting by Tim Hepher; Additional reporting by Laurence Frost. Editing by Jan Harvey and Mark Potter)

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