African Ministers of Aviation have described the much-touted proposal to impose vaccine passports for air travelers as unacceptable. They say it is tantamount to discrimination against certain groups of the population, especially on the African continent which still has a considerable number of its citizens who are yet to receive the vaccines. The ministers also described the proposal as going against the intent of the Chicago Convention on the need to preserve friendship and understanding, reduce the threat to general security and establish international air transport based on an equal opportunity, operated soundly and economically. Africa says vaccine passports violate ‘Chicago’.

The African Ministers Delegation’s position was made known during a presentation on October 13 at the ongoing International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) High-Level Conference on COVID-19 by Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika. Rather than imposing vaccine passports, the African delegation recommended that states party should continue to minimize the risks during travel by ensuring compliance with existing multinational treaties, international frameworks, guidelines, and recommendations.

Sirika, on their behalf, also recommended that human rights, regional/continental/global health security, economic growth, social cohesion, good international relations, and the use of innovation and technology worldwide to harmonize requirements should be promoted. The transmission of critical information across borders related to public health issues such as COVID-19 and coordination among key players should also be considered.

Unilateral measures

The Nigerian minister also stated that African nations frowned at states imposing unilateral measures of global nature related to public health. He asked such states to 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 the full measure of the dire circumstances now facing the air transport sector, and to ensure sufficient operational sustainability. These actions are critical to making sure that the world is adequately reconnected, as aviation plays a critical role in the global economic recovery and achieve the realization 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 will no doubt depend on an economically viable aviation system. Aviation is also capable of stimulating recovery and growth of the global economy by acting as an enabler and multiplier of economic activity”.

“Considering that the global aviation industry operates as an interconnected ecosystem, it is therefore imperative that all the states of the world implement the ICAO Council Aviation Recovery Taskforce (CART) recommendations and guidance, which are based on the latest development of the 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 the specification of infrastructure (soft/hard) and training of professionals”.

“As 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, reduce the threat to general security and establish international air transport based on an equal opportunity, operated soundly and economically.”

Sirika added that World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges “that there is still a limited supply of vaccines and puts forward seven key assumptions regarding vaccines. This further strengthens the fact that vaccines are still not widely available to all world regions, particularly Africa”. (…) It is also important to note that the African Union-led initiative of Safe Reopening of Borders to Save Lives, Economies, and Livelihoods in Africa has conducted detailed work including a call to action that recognizes 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.”

Second joint meeting

He disclosed that two continental joint meetings of African ministers responsible for health, ICT, and transport have been so far organized in March and August, with the second joint meeting rolling out the African campaign Against COVID-19. The meetings charged African countries to work together towards harmonizing travel entry and exit requirements, and to increase mutual recognition and cross-border information exchange for enhanced surveillance. The outcome of the March meeting in Nigeria was the development of a Plan of Action. Sirika called on ICAO to support the African region in the implementation of this Plan of Action. In July, the association advised African countries on how they develop their aviation industry. 

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