WHO Official Says Tests, Not Quarantines, Are the Future of Travel

Another confirmation that air travel is a low-risk activity

COVID-19 travel mask with luggage. Coronavirus airport restriction. A medical face mask with passport, plane ticket, and luggages
Paul Biris / Getty Images

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, one thing is for sure: the virus isn't going anywhere any time soon. But thanks to the continued efforts of scientists around the world, we're learning more about the virus each day, which in turn allows us to figure out how to return to some semblance of normalcy, safely. In terms of travel, it might just be about time to open the gates—as long as testing is widespread.

According to Didier Houssin, the chair of an independent COVID-19 advisory board to the World Health Organization (WHO), the future of opening up global air travel lies within the realm of testing, not quarantines (like the 14-day one currently mandatory for travelers entering the United Kingdom).

“The use of the tests is certainly now supposed to have a much larger place compared to quarantine, for example, which would certainly facilitate things considering all the efforts which have been made by airlines and by airports,” Houssin said in a news conference.

United, American, and JetBlue are all running trials of pre-flight testing programs, with the ultimate goal of helping more people get up in the air and across borders. The more testing is implemented into travel procedures, the safer traveling becomes.

There's more good news from WHO, too: the agency's top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, said that traveling is "relatively safe" with pandemic protocols in place, though he noted that there is still an inherent risk of transmission if you're out and about in public. As such, it's time for countries to assess their current tourism policies.

"Therefore it is [a] trade-off that countries have to make, the risk of a traveler arriving and potentially starting another chain of transmission, against the obvious benefit of allowing travel from a social and an economic point of view,” he said in the same news conference. “You can add testing and different measures into that. We are looking at that right now. We will be coming out very soon with more advice for countries in terms of the risk management process.”

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