Travel & COVID: Testing, Asymptomatic's & Financial Failure

They say that flying during COVID19 is safe!

This blog post is tagged with:

Coronavirus Health Human Rights

But how safe do you feel if you have decided to fly off somewhere?

Whether you are an individual or business, do you feel that your Human Rights have been respected?

Did you hear the one about the aircraft returning from Zante, with confirmed cases of Coronavirus and with the aircraft passengers being told that they must now self-isolate? 

What was remarkable about this story is that is happened on Tuesday 25 August and the actual news only broke the story on Sunday 30 August, some 5 days later!

5 days; that’s what it took to reveal the seriousness of this story and its impact on passengers arriving into Cardiff. That’s 5 days for the passengers to get back to their homes and potentially mix with friends and neighbours before they were told that they should isolate. So it’s not just about 193 passengers; it’s likely to be much more.

Then there’s the issue that COVID flight-safe rules were not followed. Passengers from the jet claim that people were not wearing their masks and were mixing throughout the cabin. The airline hotly refutes the passenger comments, advising that the rules were followed.

If the allegations are correct, then it raises important questions as to why the powers under Section 94 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 were not used. If passengers are failing to respond to crew safety instructions then action can be taken to either restrain a passenger or passengers for the attention of the authorities upon landing. Where the situation onboard becomes unsafe, the Captain has the option of bringing the aircraft down and disembarking the unruly passengers, with the airline providing them with the bill for the flight disruption. 

What is interesting here is that it seems that none of these measures were deployed and looking at UK and EU “regulation”, it appears to take the form of ‘guidance”, that is why the powers given to aircrew is so important. It is one thing to placate passengers, quite another to allow passengers to continue to flout rules. 

It is also important to note that the airline is a signatory to the EU/EASA Aviation Industry Charter for COVID19, which points the signatories to the EASA/ECDC COVID19 Aviation Health Safety Protocol. That protocol references the actions that aircrew should consider taking where passengers are disruptive toward the COVID safety measures!

It has been said that the airline is carrying out an enquiry into the allegations, but surely this should be an independent enquiry, led by the Civil Aviation Authority along with the Department for Health and the Department for Transport.

Do you get the sense that there is very little follow-up to these issues; that there is no confidence building mechanisms from which public health awareness, the travel industry and the Consumer would benefit?

Then there is the question of where did the passengers with confirmed cases of Coronavirus contract the illness?

Was it in the UK, was it in Greece?

I suspect that those affected probably arrived in Greece before the 17 August requirement, to produce a negative COVID/PSR test before being allowed to enter the country. It is going to be the case, in my opinion, that country’s will no longer take your word for it, you are going to have to prove that you do not have Coronavirus.

So we have the prospect that travellers to Greece on this flight, were likely to be asymptomatic or indeed pre-symptomatic, but how would we know? Were any of these passengers tested before or post departure. We know the answer here that they were likely not tested before going on holiday if the departure was pre-17 August 2020. But if they were tested in Greece and found to be Asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, what did the Authorities do, what did the UK’s Foreign Office do to ensure that risk was kept at a minimum?

One thing’s for sure, the confirmed cases caught it somewhere, but the question of where, will for the moment, remain a mystery.

As I wrote the script for this Podcast, the prospect was arising that Portugal would be added onto the ‘no-go’ and quarantine list due to the increasing “R” number in that country (let’s leave to one-side our own increasing “R” number, which I’m certain countries will start to raise their own concerns quite soon).

In the early stages of this crisis, we could see in minute detail where geographically the greatest risk arose by reference to the “R” number; we now seem to have migrated to the “R” number being set against the per 100,000 members of population, as being the indicative risk in a country.

But, can that “unified” figure be said to be the most accurate measure of what is happening in any country; what is the true position of a region, town or village - what is the measure that should be deployed to understand the nature and rates of infections. It must be clear, that using the blunt instrument of closure, because it is easy, does not really advise of risk or the nature of that risk.

Risk comes from, who we are, where we have been in our own communities and how that risk is recognised and confirmed.

There is much consternation from the Travel Industry, who were already reeling from the effects of competition and of course the potential from a no-deal brexit; then COVID hit town.

Over the weekend, one senior leading light in Travel, raised the pointlessness of Quarantine on its own as a weapon against COVID. They raised the prospect that Quarantine was a breach of Human Rights; a fair point.

But, the problem with that argument is that a State can derogate from those rights in times of a National Emergency. To derogate, a country has to inform the keepers of the Treaties or Conventions that they intend to derogate from those rights, whilst providing evidence of the steps that they intend to take to protect the rights of individuals.

This is an important point because whatever about our rights as individuals, businesses also have ‘human rights’ as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. Article 16 gives the freedom of operate a business according to National and EU Law. Before anyone gets vexated about the UK and the EU, everyone should remember that Articles 126 & 127 of the Withdrawal Agreement continues the rights we had upon formally leaving the EU, until 31 December 2020 and individuals and businesses can rely on those rights, certainly until then, what ever about beyond that date!

Now it seems to me, given that decisions are being made unilaterally by government, all with the intent of keeping us safe, that those decisions should be capable of challenge. I would say that they can be challenged, simply because I can find no evidence that the UK has derogated from its treaty obligations to human rights, be they for business or individuals. There is evidence that a High Court Judge submitted a derogation in his case, because he considered that it was not possible to deal with the Human Rights issues in his case, given the emergency, unless he did otherwise. That was in March of this year; the government did not follow suit.

So, if I were in the delegation meeting with MP’s and Ministers today, I would be raising this issue of derogation today, to bring about pressure (of course the government could derogate - but unlikely at this point). The Travel Industry could with unity and authority drive the forces of policy toward testing, geo-locating “R” numbers and better and enforceable regulation, thereby bringing about a better and more informed dialogue on the potential of Travel.

It would also I suspect, if government embraced multilateralism, bring about a better policy across Europe and heighten Consumer awareness of the risks apparent.

As it is, much to the seeming shock/horror delight of the “red-top” newspapers, we are engaged in a game of holiday hokey-cokey and an Industry facing the plunging numbers on their balance sheets.

Cool heads and analytical minds are required.

(This is the script for Frank's CreatingRipples™ Podcast - Travel & COVID: Testing, Asymptomatic's & Financial Failure. You can listen to Frank's Podcast here)