Africa opposes imposition of vaccine passports for air travellers

The African Ministers of Aviation have described the much-touted proposal to impose vaccine passports for air travelers as unacceptable as it is tantamount to discrimination against certain groups of population.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika. [Punch]

The African Ministers Delegation’s position was made known on Wednesday in a presentation to the Virtual ongoing International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) High Level Conference on COVID-19 by Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika.

Sirika, in a statement signed by Mr James Odaudu, the Director of Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, said that ‘’imposition of vaccine passports is specifically against the African continent’’.

According to him, considerable number of African citizens are yet to receive the vaccines.

Sirika described the proposal as ‘’going against intent of Chicago Convention on need to preserve friendship and understanding, reduce threat to general security and establish international air transport based on equal opportunity, operated soundly and economically’’.

Sirika therefore recommended that States party to Convention on International Civil Aviation should continue to minimise risks during travel by ensuring compliance with existing multinational treaties, international frameworks, guidelines and recommendations rather than imposing vaccine passports.

He further recommended that human rights, regional, continental and global health security, economic growth, social cohesion, good international relations and use of innovation and technology worldwide to harmonise requirements should be promoted.

“While transmission of critical information across borders related to public health issues such as COVID-19 and coordination among key players should also be considered.

“African nations frowned at States imposing unilateral measures of global nature related to public health and such states should refrain from such practices and instead take measures that would facilitate the reopening and reconnection of the world.

“There is a clear onus on both public and private stakeholders to take full measure of the dire circumstances now facing the air transport sector and to ensure sufficient operational sustainability,” he said.

According to him, the actions are critical to make sure that the world is adequately reconnected as aviation plays a critical role in the global economic recovery and achieve the realisation of the goals of both AU Agenda 2063 and UN Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.

On the general strategies for recovery, Sirika said the global distribution of emergency and humanitarian supplies including the vaccines would no doubt depend on an economically viable aviation system.

He added that Aviation was also capable of stimulating recovery and growth of global economy by acting as an enabler and multiplier of economic activity.

“Considering global aviation industry operates as an interconnected ecosystem, it is imperative all States of the world implement ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) recommendations and guidance, which are based on the latest development of COVID-19.

“ICAO, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, is required to bring to maturity, in short term, a consensual modality for establishment and deployment of a global health passport as well as specification of infrastructure and training of professionals.

“Also, well captured by the Preamble of the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention, 1944), there is an important need to develop international civil aviation to preserve friendship and understanding,” he said.

He stated that such move would reduce threat to general security and establish international air transport based on equal opportunity, operated soundly and economically.

According to him, it is worth noting that the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) Roadmap for prioritising use of COVID-19 Vaccines in the context of limited supply.

The minister noted that WHO SAGE acknowledged that there was still a limited supply of vaccines to put forward seven key assumptions regarding vaccines.

Sirika added that such action further strengthens the fact that vaccines were still not widely available to all world regions, particularly Africa.

He said it was also important to note that the African Union-led initiative of “Safe Reopening of Borders to Save Lives, Economies and Livelihoods in Africa” had conducted detailed work.

“This includes a call to action that recognises that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout will be uneven in all its Member States, while conscious of the progress made in science on the same.

“Two continental joint meetings of African ministers responsible for health, ICT and transport have been so far organised with the second joint meeting rolling out the African campaign Against COVID-19.

“Saving Lives, Economies and Livelihoods was endorsed on 20 August, 2020, by the Bureau of the Assembly of the African Union Heads of State and Government with chairpersons of the Regional Economic Communities of the African Union,” he said.

According to him, the meetings charged African countries to work together towards harmonising travel entry and exit requirements, and to increase mutual recognition and cross-border information exchange for enhanced surveillance.

Sirika disclosed that Nigeria hosted a virtual High Level Ministerial meeting on “Enhancing Air Transport Connectivity and Growth in West Africa” at regional level on March 17.

He said that the event, which was organised with support from International Partners for Aviation Development, Innovation and Sustainability (iPADIS) ICAO Dakar Regional Office and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was meant to reimagine and revitalise.

According to him, it is also to retool the aviation system in region to meet present and future challenges within the context of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

Sirika explained that the outcome of the high-level ministerial meeting in Nigeria was towards overall sustainable development of a Plan of Action.

He further said the meeting in Nigeria also aided to reassess the role and contribution of civil aviation to the region’s economic growth, social progress and integration.

Sirika, therefore, called on ICAO to support the African region in the implementation of the Plan of Action.

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