The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) considers it unnecessary for non-essential international travel to require covid-19 tests before departure or upon arrival, as well as quarantines at the destination.
PAHO’s Director of Health Emergencies, Ciro Ugarte, advised on Wednesday “not to depend on quarantines or diagnostic tests to resume non-essential travel,” and cited a document with recommendations that the agency just published at the request of its member countries.
“As PAHO, we are very aware of the need for states dependent on tourism to reactivate their economy,” Ugarte said at a press conference, stressing that the reopening of borders implies accepting and mitigating the risk of contagion.
But once the decision was made, he recommended monitoring the health status of tourists “during the first 14 days of their stay” without forcing them to isolate themselves.
This monitoring, he said, should be done with the collaboration of tourists themselves, hotels and the tourism industry in general, and in a context of local compliance with public health measures to prevent infections.
On the other hand, he ruled out that the covid-19 diagnostic tests prior to a trip serve to prevent the spread of the virus, since “many things may have happened” between the time the sample is taken and the results are received.
– “False sense of security” –
“The community feels safe when arriving travelers are tested, but that is a false sense of security,” Ugarte stressed, saying that requiring tests can lead to “ineffective” use of resources.
The PAHO document on this issue, dated October 9, says that international travel should not be allowed by people who have restricted movements in their own community, and asks not to consider tourists as suspected cases of covid-19 .
“International travelers should not be considered or handled as covid-19 contacts and they should not be required to quarantine in the destination country,” he says.
In addition, he says that “it is not justified” to take the body temperature of travelers, ask them to fill out forms or sign statements about possible symptoms, or require tests for covid-19.
“It is not recommended to carry out or recommend tests for COVID-19 to passengers planning or making an international trip as a tool to mitigate the risk of international spread,” says the document, available on the PAHO website.
However, PAHO requires that the crew and passengers wear a mask “throughout the flight, as well as at the points of entry” and comply with hygiene and physical distance measures.
Ugarte said that PAHO is in “close contact” with various governments in the region in order to adjust the requirements related to tourism when reopening their economies.
– Legal limitations –
“Relying on tests to stimulate tourism presents important and substantial limitations in biological, epidemiological, logistical and also legal aspects,” said the official.
According to the International Health Regulations (IHR), the legally binding agreement signed by the more than 190 member countries of the WHO, proof of vaccination against yellow fever is the only health document that may be required from travelers.
“Therefore, requesting in international transit a proof of the results of a laboratory analysis would contravene the provisions of the IHR,” PAHO said.
“In addition, (…) imposing on the country of origin the burden of conducting laboratory tests could be considered an interference with the sovereignty of the country regarding its response to the pandemic and prioritizing the use of its laboratory resources,” he added.
Among the operational challenges of requiring a diagnostic test for travelers, PAHO highlighted the eventual agglomeration of people to collect samples at points of entry, the verification of test results when they are issued in different jurisdictions, and the implications financial for unforeseen expenses and medical costs.
“These circumstances are cause for concern in view of the expected proportion of false positive results in travelers,” the PAHO document warned.
He also noted that possible serial tests for international travelers “could divert diagnostic aids and other laboratory supplies” needed in priority groups.