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WHO Urges Governments to add Marine and Air Crew to Vaccine Priority Lists

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The World Health Organization is appealing to governments to add seafarers and aircrew to their list of essential workers and add them to priority lists for their Covid-19 vaccination program rollouts.

The WHO said maritime and air travel are two central activities to global trade and mobility and play a vital role in global supply chains and the provision of humanitarian aid.

“They also play a key role in global socio-economic recovery. It is estimated that 400 000 seafarers are currently stranded onboard commercial vehicles, unable to be repatriated, while a similar number are unable to join the ships to replace them,” WHO said.

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In a joint statement, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and WHO said passenger air transport carried about 5.7 billion passengers in 2019 while airfreight represents 35% of the value of goods shipped in all modes combined.

“The total number of licensed aviation professionals, which include pilots, air traffic controllers, and licensed maintenance technicians, was 887 000 in 2019, according to ICAO personnel statistics. Application of stringent public health rules to aircrew, including quarantine, has resulted in hindered connectivity, operational complexity, and significant cost,” the organizations said.

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According to the statement, maritime and air transport rely on seafarers and aircrew, who are key workers required to travel across borders at all times, which may result in the need for them to present proof of a Covid-19 vaccination as a condition for entry in some countries, this is despite the WHO recommendation that, at present, countries should not introduce requirements of proof of vaccination for international travel as a condition of entry, as there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission and limited availability of vaccines.

The organizations said for shipping and air transport to continue to operate safely, the safe cross-border movement of seafarers and aircrew must be facilitated.

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They have further reiterated the call for countries that have not done so, to designate seafarers and aircrew as key workers.

“We also call on governments to prioritize seafarers and aircrew in their national Covid-19 vaccination programs, together with other essential workers, in accordance with the advice from the WHO SAGE Roadmap for prioritizing the use of Covid-19 vaccines in the context of limited supply published in November 2020.

“Seafarers and aircrew need to be protected through vaccination as soon as possible, to facilitate their safe movement across borders. We also call on governments to identify and prepare for the challenges of Covid-19 vaccination of seafarers and aircrew, particularly for seafarers spending long periods of time away from their home country.

“Our organizations fully support the timely development of an internationally harmonized framework for vaccination certificates, to facilitate international travel for seafarers and aircrew,” they said.

In December 2020, the WHO established a Smart Vaccination Certificate working group to ensure that digitalized versions of vaccine certificates are interoperable, and the UN Crisis Management Team for Covid-19, under the leadership of the WHO, recognized that all countries should consider seafarers and aircrew, who are required to travel across borders during the pandemic, for essential allocation of vaccines.

“We invite governments and other stakeholders to bring the contents of this joint statement to the attention of the competent authorities and all parties concerned,” the organizations said.

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