The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has urged governments to remove all travel barriers, including quarantine and testing, for those fully vaccinated as Covid-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage.
Iata has also called for:
• Enabling quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result.
• Removing travel bans, and
• Accelerating the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for Covid-19 spread than already exists in the general population.
“With the experience of the Omicron variant, there is mounting scientific evidence and opinion opposing the targeting of travellers with restrictions and country bans to control the spread of Covid-19. The measures have not worked,” said Willie Walsh, Iata’s Director General.
“Today Omicron is present in all parts of the world. That’s why travel, with very few exceptions, does not increase the risk to general populations. The billions spent testing travellers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems,”
A recently published study by Oxera and Edge Health demonstrated the extremely limited impact of travel restrictions on controlling the spread of Omicron. The study found that:
• If the UK’s extra measures with respect to Omicron had been in place from the beginning of November (prior to the identification of the variant), the peak of the Omicron wave would have been delayed by just five days with 3% fewer cases.
• The absence of any testing measures for travellers would have seen the Omicron wave peak seven days earlier with an overall 8% increase in cases.
• Now that Omicron is highly prevalent in the UK, if all travel testing requirements were removed there would be no impact on Omicron case numbers or hospitalizations in the UK.
“While the study is specific to the UK, it is clear that travel restrictions in any part of the world have had little impact on the spread of Covid-19, including the Omicron variant. The UK, France and Switzerland have recognized this and are among the first to begin removing travel measures. More governments need to follow their lead. Accelerating the removal of travel restrictions will be a major step towards living with the virus,” said Walsh.
With respect to travel bans, the WHO Emergency Committee has confirmed their recommendation to “Lift or ease international traffic bans as they do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress experienced by States. The failure of travel restrictions introduced after the detection and reporting of Omicron variant to limit international spread of Omicron demonstrates the ineffectiveness of such measures over time.”
What happens when Covid-19 is confirmed as endemic?
All indications point to Covid-19 becoming an endemic condition—one that humankind now has the tools (including vaccination and therapeutics) to live and travel with, bolstered by growing population immunity.
This aligns with the advice from public health experts to shift the policy focus from an individual’s health status towards policies focusing on population-wide protection. It is important that governments and the travel industry are well-prepared for the transition and ready to remove the burden of measures that disrupt travel.
“The current situation of travel restrictions is a mess. There is one problem—Covid-19. But there seem to be more unique solutions to managing travel and Covid-19 than there are countries to travel to. Indeed research from the Migration Policy Institute has counted more than 100,000 travel measures around the world that create complexity for passengers, airlines and governments to manage,” said Walsh.
“We have two years of experience to guide us on a simplified and coordinated path to normal travel when Covid-19 is endemic. That normality must recognize that travellers, with very few exceptions, will present no greater risk than exists in the general population. And that’s why travellers should not be subject to any greater restrictions than are applied to the general community.”
“Urgent consideration is needed for several critical concerns regarding vaccines. While Europe is aligning around a nine-month validity period for primary vaccinations, this is not universal. And booster shot validity has not been addressed. As the first quarter of the year is key to bookings for the peak-northern summer travel season, it is important to provide certainty to potential travellers as early as possible. Governments have declared intentions to support a travel recovery. Addressing questions on vaccination validity is a key element,” said Walsh.
“The over-reaction of many governments to Omicron proved the blueprint’s key point—the need for simple, predictable and practical means of living with the virus that don’t constantly default to de-connecting the world. We have seen that targeting disproportionate measures at travellers has economic and social costs but very limited public health benefits. We must aim at a future where international travel faces no greater restriction than visiting a shop, attending a public gathering or riding the bus,” added Walsh.
Iata Travel Pass
The successful rollout of the Iata Travel Pass continues with a growing number of airlines already using it in daily operations to support the validation of health credentials for travel.
“Whatever the rules are for vaccination requirements, the industry will be able to manage them with digital solutions, the leader of which is the Iata Travel Pass. It’s a matured solution being implemented across a growing number of global networks,” said Walsh. – TradeArabia News Service