COVID-19: IATA Insists Global Economy Will Recover When Countries Relax Travel Restrictions

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.UK to remove all testing requirements from February 11

Chinedu Eze

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that for global economy to recover, nations should relax travel restrictions.

The United Kingdom has already announced that it would remove all travel restrictions from February 11, 2022.

According to UK government website, GOV.UK, from 4am on February 11, 2022, all testing requirements would be removed for eligible fully vaccinated arrivals, with only a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) now required; arrivals who are not recognised as fully vaccinated would only need to take a pre-departure test and a PCR test on or before day 2 after they arrive in the UK.

Also children aged 12-15 in England would be able to prove their vaccination status or proof of prior infection via a digital NHS COVID Pass from 3 February for outbound travel and travel changes would come in ahead of February half term, and follow the success of the booster programme.

Meanwhile, IATA has urged governments to accelerate relaxation of travel restrictions as COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage.

The global body has therefore called for removal of all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine.

IATA called on governments around the world to allow quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travelers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result; removing travel bans, “and accelerate 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 travelers with restrictions and country bans to control the spread of COVID-19. The measures have not worked. 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 travelers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems,” said IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh.

IATA cited recently published study by Oxera and Edge Health, which 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 per cent fewer cases.
The study also said that the absence of any testing measures for travelers would have seen the Omicron wave peak seven days earlier with an overall 8 per cent increase in cases.
It stated that 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, IATA recalled that last week, the WHO Emergency Committee confirmed the 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.

It noted that 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.

“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. 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 travelers, with very few exceptions, will present no greater risk than exists in the general population. And that’s why travelers should not be subject to any greater restrictions than are applied to the general community, ”Walsh said.

IATA also observed that mutually recognised policies on vaccination would be critical as the world approaches the endemic phase.

“Barrier-free travel is a potent incentive for vaccination. The sustainability of this incentive must not be compromised by vaccine policies that complicate travel or divert vaccine resources from where they can do the most good,” IATA added.