WHO urges countries to consider seafarers, aircrew as essential workers for vaccination

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged the countries to consider seafarers and aircrew as ‘essential workers’ and prioritise them for the Covid-19 vaccine.

“Maritime and air transport 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 4 lakh seafarers are currently stranded onboard commercial vehicles, unable to be repatriated, while a similar number are unable to join the ships to replace them,” the WHO said in a joint statement issued with four other international organisations.

Apart from the WHO, the statement has been signed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Labour Organization (ILO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), and International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The WHO, however, said that all nations need to determine their priority groups for vaccination on the basis of supplies and their epidemiological situation.

“The coronavirus pandemic has triggered devastating penalties for human life and the worldwide financial system. Maritime and air transport are two essential actions that underpin international commerce and mobility and are key to a sustainable socio-economic restoration. More than 80 per cent of world commerce by quantity is moved by maritime transport. The international financial system relies on the world’s 2 million seafarers who function the worldwide fleet of service provider ships. Seafarers have been severely impacted by the journey restrictions imposed through the pandemic. As of January 2021, it’s estimated that some 400,000 seafarers are stranded onboard industrial vessels, long gone the expiry of their contracts and unable to be repatriated. The same variety of seafarers urgently want to be a part of ships to substitute them.”

The data says that the passenger air transport carried about 5.7 billion passengers in 2019 while airfreight represents 35 per cent 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 the ICAO personnel statistics.

Application of stringent public health rules to aircrew, including quarantine, has resulted in hindered connectivity, operational complexity and significant cost.

Maritime and air transport rely on seafarers and aircrew. They 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 WHO recommendation that, at the present time, countries shouldn’t introduce necessities of proof of vaccination for worldwide journey as a situation of entry, as there are nonetheless crucial unknowns relating to the efficacy of vaccination in lowering transmission and restricted availability of vaccines, says the joint assertion.

“For shipping and air transport to continue to operate safely, the safe cross-border movement of seafarers and aircrew must be facilitated. We reiterate our call upon countries that have not done so to designate seafarers and aircrew as key workers,” the assertion stated.

Through the joint assertion, the worldwide organisations, additionally urged the governments to prioritise seafarers and aircrew of their nationwide Covid-19 vaccination programmes.

“Seafarers and aircrew need to be protected through vaccination as soon as possible, to facilitate their safe movement across borders. The WHO also calls 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,” the assertion stated.

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