Travel groups call for an end to 'blanket' quarantine rules

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A sign alerting visitors to quarantine.
A sign alerting visitors to quarantine. Photo Credit: Donald Gargano/Shutterstock.com

For the better part of a day last week, residents of three states that border New York did not know with certainty whether they were subject to the Empire State's 14-day quarantine rule.

Forty U.S. states and territories were on New York's quarantine list as of Oct. 20, meaning they had a 10% average Covid-19 positivity rate, subjecting their residents to a two-week quarantine if they visit New York for longer than 24 hours. 

Last week, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania all exceeded the 10% threshold. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ultimately decided not to enforce the quarantine on those states, citing impracticality given their shared borders and commerce. 

But the situation illustrated one of the many issues prompting a rising chorus of global voices in tourism to call for the end of regional quarantine policies. 

Their argument is not only that the measures deter travel by creating confusion and uncertainty, but that they are not the most effective way to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Patrick Whalen
Patrick Whalen

"Rather than a blanket cut-off of entire countries and states because they have hot spots, it would be better to test people and enable them to not have to quarantine," said Patrick Whalen, director of the Niagara Global Tourism Institute, which focuses on public-public partnerships to improve tourism.

Like Whalen, many associations say that rapid and reliable testing protocols are a far better way to prevent Covid spread while enabling the resumption of travel.

"Extreme travel restrictions -- in particular quarantines -- are anything but risk-based," a coalition of more than 20 tourism groups across Europe, including the European Tourism Association, said in an open letter to the European Commission last month. "They are not an effective way to fight the epidemic."

The coalition implored the EU to take the lead in developing a testing protocol that would enable governments to reopen borders and avoid quarantines. The group said that governments "have demonized our industries and what is an integral part of the European way of life. This needs to stop."

In a joint statement from Airports Council International and IATA this month advocating for the use of testing to reopen borders, Airports Council world director general Luis Felipe de Oliveira said the groups are "calling for urgent government action to introduce widespread and coordinated testing of passengers to enable quarantine requirements to be removed. Without this action, it is not an exaggeration that the industry is facing collapse."

Sean Doyle, the new CEO of British Airways, also said recently that reliable, affordable testing before flying "is the way forward." 

"We need to get our economy moving again, and this just isn't possible when you're asking people to quarantine for 14 days," he said, adding that even a seven-day quarantine "will deter travel."

ASTA chimed in on this point, as well, urging Cuomo to reconsider an executive order requiring travelers to quarantine for 14 days when coming from most countries. In a letter, CEO Zane Kerby said the restriction "transforms a hypothetical weeklong vacation into a three-week ordeal" and "serves as a strong disincentive for New Yorkers to undertake any international travel."

Kerby added that "while public health is paramount for our members, governments must not ignore the catastrophic economic consequences of the steps they've taken in response to Covid-19."

The U.S. Travel Association has also come out against quarantines, saying that destinations should instead mandate safe travel guidelines and invest in testing. 

"From an economic recovery standpoint, we need states to consider lifting their quarantines," Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy at U.S. Travel, said in September. "That's one of the reasons we've been such a huge proponent of rapid, reliable testing."

Among the issues cited about quarantines is that they are based on formulas that can result in a frequent shift in a state's or nation's status.

"Quarantine measures across Europe continue to change regularly, and this, in itself, acts as a deterrent," said Johanna Bonhill-Smith, a travel and tourism analyst with GlobalData. 

Whalen said this is certainly true for the Niagara Falls area. He pointed to Ohio, a key state for the region's tourism, which seems "to go on and off the list." 

"When it's off the list and they don't have to quarantine, it's noticeable here," he said. "You see more Ohio license plates." 

Whalen said he believes that individual behavior is a more significant factor in preventing the spread of Covid than quarantines based on region.

"What's missing from this whole dialogue is people's personal responsibility," he said. "It's very difficult to legislate or use executive orders to make these rules. It's really about behaviors."

That was also the message from the Healthy Sail Panel of medical and science experts assembled by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings to make recommendations for the safe resumption of cruising.

The panel, chaired by Mike Leavitt, former Utah governor and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in its report that "there is a high likelihood that regardless of the [Covid-19] prevalence and burden in a given locality or region, the activities and exposures of the individuals from that region will be far more predictive of their likelihood of contracting the virus and bringing it to the ship than the fact that they traveled from a given location." 

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