GENEVA, Switzerland - Seafarers and aircrew should be considered among "essential workers" prioritized for vaccination against Covid-19 as they play key roles in global trade and mobility, the United Nations said Friday.
The World Health Organization (WHO), along with the UN's agencies for labor, migration and civil aviation, highlighted in a joint statement that air and sea personnel would be key to the world's socio-economic recovery from the pandemic.
"For shipping and air transport to continue to operate safely, the safe cross-border movement of seafarers and aircrew must be facilitated," they said.
More than 80 percent of global trade by volume is moved by maritime transport, making the global economy reliant on the some two million mariners who operate the world's merchant ships, the statement said.
But seafarers have been hard-hit in the pandemic, with an estimated 400,000 of them as of January stranded onboard commercial vessels long past the end of their contracts and unable to be repatriated.
A similar number of sailors were waiting to join ships to replace them, the agencies said.
Prior to the pandemic, the air transport industry carried some 5.7 billion passengers in 2019 alone -- while airfreight represented 35 percent of the value of all goods shipped by all means that year, the agencies said.
A total of 887,000 people were licensed aviation professionals, including pilots, air traffic controllers and maintenance crew, prior to the pandemic, according to data from the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization.
Stringent measures to contain Covid-19, including quarantines, have led to complicated operations at significant costs, the statement said.
The agencies noted that seafarers and aircrew have to cross borders all the time and may have to present proof of vaccination as a condition for entry in some countries.
The WHO has recommended that countries for now refrain from requiring proof of vaccination for international travel, pointing to "critical unknowns" when it comes to the jabs' efficacy in reducing transmission and also to limited and inequitable access.
But the UN agencies said they fully supported the "timely development" of an international framework for vaccination certificates to facilitate travel by seafarers and aircrew.
A growing number of countries are already moving forward toward national and regional vaccine "passports".
"Seafarers and aircrew need to be protected through vaccination as soon as possible, to facilitate their safe movement across borders," the statement said. — Agence France-Presse