COVID-19 Vaccine: Aircrews, Seafarers are Essential workers, says UN

ADDIS ABABA – Aircrews and Seafarers should be considered ‘essential workers’ and prioritized in national Covid-19 vaccination programs, advised five United Nations organizations.

For shipping and air transport to continue to operate safely, the safe cross-border movement of seafarers and aircrew must be facilitated, said the agencies including World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint statement on Friday.

“We reiterate our call upon countries that have not done so to designate seafarers and aircrew as key workers,” the agencies said, adding they should get priority “in their national COVID-19 vaccination programs, together with other essential workers”.

Experts say maritime and air transport are two essential activities that underpin global trade and mobility and are key to a sustainable socio-economic recovery.

More than 80% of global trade by volume is moved by maritime transport.

Seafarers – estimated to be 2mln globally – have been severely impacted by the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

As of January 2021, it is estimated that some 400,000 seafarers are stranded onboard commercial vessels and unable to be repatriated
A similar number of seafarers urgently need to join ships to replace them.

Conversely, the pandemic is affecting aircrews that were responsible for transporting about 5.7 billion passengers in 2019 and 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.

The UN agencies said 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, according to the statement.

This is despite WHO recommendation that, at the present time, 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.