EASA/ECDC provide guidelines for aviation as part of European response to COVID-19 developments in China

COLOGNE/STOCKHOLM, January 10, 2023 – Europe has agreed on measures to be applied in aviation in response to the  specific localised worsening of the COVID-19 epidemiological situation in China, making recommendations which could potentially also be applied in other geographical regions in similar situations. 

The recommendations, defined in an Addendum to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol published jointly by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), are aimed at minimising the health safety risk associated with air travel to and from such areas and will contribute to the global monitoring of SARS-COV-2 variants. The aim is to reduce the risk of geographical spread of a potential new variant as well as the likelihood of transmission during air travel. The publication of Addendum follows the recent agreement of EU Member States on a coordinated precautionary approach in the light of COVID-19 developments in China.

“This addendum is a prompt European coordinated response to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in China so as to assure health safety in aviation and limit the spread of the virus to other regions”, said EASA Strategy and Safety Management Director Luc Tytgat. “It is clear that these measures are temporary and have been designed as a proportionate response, which can be applied in any other comparable situation if there is a regional flare-up of COVID-19.”

ECDC Director Andrea Ammon stated: “In light of the current epidemiological situation, EU/EEA countries should focus on the early detection of any new variants. As new variants can appear anywhere around the world, the cornerstone for such detection is effective monitoring based on representative sampling, which can be complemented by screening samples from incoming passengers to the EU/EEA from China, or other parts of the world.
General strengthening of surveillance and genomic monitoring within our Member States is therefore very important. We must remain vigilant and monitor the situation closely, especially in a time of co-circulation of other respiratory viruses such as RSV and influenza. Our response efforts should be coherent, coordinated, proportionate, and sustainable.”

In the current situation, the measures are targeted at flights between China and the European Union. They comprise non-pharmaceutical measures to reduce the spread of the virus, such as mask-wearing and testing of travellers, as well as monitoring of waste water as an early warning tool to detect new variants. The recommendations have been devised in consultation with European Commission's Joint Research Centre, national aviation and public health authorities, airlines and airports as well as aircraft manufacturers. 

Based on the measures agreed upon by the European Member States, the following recommendations apply with immediate effect for flights arriving in the EU from China: 

  • pre-departure testing for passengers on direct and indirect flights  
  • wearing of medical face masks or respirators on board the aircraft for both passengers and crew
  • enhanced cleaning and disinfection of aircraft serving these routes
  • wherever possible, the vaccination status of crew members should be considered before assignment for duty
  • random testing may also be carried out on a sample of arriving passengers 
  • such positive tests should be sequenced, so as to gain early information on circulating and any new variants emerging in the region of origin
  • waste water should be monitored at airports with international flights and aircraft arriving from China to monitor the level of infection and detect any new variants.

The measures are defined in a way that should not introduce any flight delays or compromise flight safety. The recommendations will be reviewed regularly in alignment with the risk assessment of the epidemiological situations carried out by ECDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO) and with any review of the currently agreed measures by the Member States at European level.