International travel in the ASEAN region in the new COVID-19 normal

by Rodel Sibulo
Covid test

The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for more than a year now, with the majority of countries globally implementing and enforcing lockdowns, quarantines and economic remedies since March 2020. This resulted in -3.3 real GDP growth last year and an expected 6.0% growth this year which eases to 4.4 in 2022.

Although the transport of goods and services critical for global economies to survive has been kept afloat, individual cross-border travel (both for leisure and business) has been placed in a virtual standstill since the controls were instituted.

2021 began with the approvals and commercial availability of vaccines by advanced economies, and domestic and international travel has slowly inched towards re-opening since then. This was throttled by spikes in COVID-19 cases in some areas and the emergence of new variants of the virus, some of which may or may not be within the scope of available vaccines.

Kick-starting the industry

In another trailblazing programme to kick-start the industry, earlier last month, Emirates operated a flight with fully vaccinated crew and passengers that included entities and proponents from the health and aviation sector. Towards the end of the month, Singapore confirmed the creation of a travel bubble between the city-state and Hong Kong which allows for any purpose of travel, including leisure. The ASEAN community continues to control its cross-border travel through several controls before, during and after the flight.

Image supplied by Singapore Airlines

Image supplied by Singapore Airlines.

Two to seven days before their flights, passengers are required to undergo RT-PCR testing, results of which arrive within a few hours of the swab. Airport controls and requirements upon check-in include temperature checks, wearing face masks and face shields and frequent sanitation of the hands.

During the flight, very limited movement in the cabin can be observed while passengers and crew are perpetually required to wear face masks and face shields throughout the flight. These are only removed during meal times.

During transit, specific areas are allocated for transit passengers and movement to and from these areas require airport security escorts. In Singapore’s Changi International Airport, only specific nationalities are allowed to access the previously crowded shopping area.

Upon arrival, airport personnel escort passengers through temperature checks, immigration and luggage collection and ferry them into designated hotels for quarantine for at least 14 days.

Though the COVID-19 vaccines seem to provide some light, the world has yet to see the end of the tunnel. We continue to hope for more permanent solutions to end the pandemic as we trudge towards the end of the first half of 2021.

How do you think COVID-19 has affected aviation? Let us know in the comments below.

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