The Persian Gulf Kingdom of Bahrain will no longer require visitors to endure a mandatory 10-day quarantine on arrival and will instead allow travellers to enter the country after undergoing a COVID-19 nasal swab test. Costing around US$160, the PCR test will be conducted at the airport on arrival and visitors will only have to self-isolate until the test results are returned as negative – which could take up to 48-hours.
Bahrain is the latest country to unlock quarantine rules by replacing self-isolation with COVID-19 testing. A small number of governments have now introduced similar schemes in a bid to open up their countries to travel and tourism and kickstart their recession-hit economies.
Dubai was one of the first destinations to welcome COVID-19 free visitors, allowing tourists to present a negative certificate dated up to 96 hours before departure. Other countries will accept a negative test within days of travel – in the case of France, citizens from 16 countries can enter if they’ve obtained a negative test certificate within 72 hours of travel.
Normally, the cost of the test has to be borne by the traveller but in Germany, the authorities will test travellers from certain ‘designated risk areas’ for free on arrival at the airport. Travellers have the choice of either taking the test or going into quarantine. Visitors can also skip the queues by presenting a negative test certificate dated within 48-hours of travel.
But replacing quarantine with testing isn’t without its risks. Heathrow Airport is urging the British government to change its own self-isolation rules in the face of rapidly changing rules that have seen holidaymakers in Spain, France, Croatia and several other countries slapped with 14-day quarantine orders after spikes in Coronavirus cases.
Heathrow wants to at least shorten the length of quarantine by conducting an initial test on arrival and a second around five to seven days later, recognising that a traveller might already be infected but still test negative when they first enter the country. Ministers remain hesitant and say such a program wouldn’t be nearly as easy as industry lobbyists are making out.
But the International Air Transport Association (IATA) continues to urge more governments to ditch quarantines, saying self-isolation requirements are killing the aviation and tourism industries, as well as slowing any economic recovery.
“Imposing quarantine measures on arriving travellers keeps countries in isolation and the travel and tourism sector in lockdown,” argues IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac.
Instead, IATA wants mandatory testing for travellers from high-risk countries where case rates are significantly higher than the country they are travelling to. Such a scheme would allow countries to accept visitors from particular hard-hit destinations like the United States, Brazil and India.
Germany’s largest aviation trade body has proposed a similar plan, urging a limited reopening of key transatlantic routes with the use of COVID-19 testing. The chief executives of several major airlines including Lufthansa, United and British Airways wrote to leaders in the U.S. and Europe with a similar proposal – so far, no progress has been made.
Countries continue to take a unilateral approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and rules are changing quickly. For many travellers, the prospect of being placed into quarantine isn’t a risk they are willing to take – one recent survey revealed that 83 per cent of travellers wouldn’t even consider going abroad if self-isolation was on the cards.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.