Travel restrictions

IATA: IATA pushes for relaxation of travel restrictions

MUMBAI: The International Air Transport Association (IATA), an airline trade body, has urged governments to remove all barriers to travel, including quarantine and testing, for people fully vaccinated with a vaccine approved by WHO.
As COVID-19 continues to evolve from pandemic to endemic, IATA has called for quarantine-free travel for unvaccinated travelers with a negative antigen test result before departure. IATA said governments should accelerate the easing of travel restrictions by recognizing that travelers do not pose a greater risk of spreading COVID-19 than already exists in the general population.
Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA, said that with the experience of the Omicron variant, there is growing scientific evidence and opinion opposing the targeting of travelers with travel restrictions and bans. countries to control the spread of COVID-19. “The measures did not work. Today, Omicron is present in all regions of the world. This is why travel, with very few exceptions, does not increase the risk for the general population. The billions spent on testing travelers would be much more effective if they were allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems,” he said.
IATA referenced a recently published study by Oxera and Edge Health which it said demonstrated the extremely limited impact of travel restrictions on controlling the spread of Omicron.
“The study found that if the additional UK measures for Omicron had been in place since early 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,” IATA said.
“The absence of any testing measures for travelers would have seen the peak of the Omicron wave seven days earlier with an overall increase of 8% in cases. Now that Omicron is widespread in the UK, if all the requirements travel testing were removed, there would be no impact on the number of Omicron cases or hospitalizations in the UK,” he said.
“Although 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 start removing travel measures. More governments must follow their example. Accelerating the removal of travel restrictions will be a major step towards living with the virus,” Walsh said.
As Covid enters the endemic phase, mutually recognized vaccination policies will be essential, IATA said, adding that barrier-free travel is a powerful incentive for vaccination. “The sustainability of this incentive should not be compromised by vaccine policies that complicate travel or divert vaccine resources to where they can do the most good,” he said.
Among the issues to be addressed is the lack of universal recognition for all vaccines on the WHO emergency use list. “This creates a barrier to travel because people have little choice over the range of vaccines available in their country,” he said.
The other problem is that there is no alignment on the validity period of the vaccine. “This will become a barrier to travel as eligibility for booster shots is controlled by national policies. Unduly short validity periods that effectively require air passengers to get regular booster shots to travel abroad will consume resources that could supporting primary vaccination in developing countries and booster doses for the most vulnerable,” he said.
Finally, he said calls from the WHO and health experts for vaccine equity are not universally prioritized. “Only half of the states in Africa have been able to vaccinate more than 10% of their population, while many developed countries are reducing the validity of vaccination and considering a second round of boosters. This creates a barrier to travel and strains testing resources in areas of the world where vaccine distribution is less advanced,” IATA said.
“Urgent review is needed for several critical vaccine concerns. While Europe aligns with a nine-month validity period for primary vaccinations, this is not universal. And the validity of the booster injections was not addressed. As the first quarter of the year is key to bookings for the peak summer travel season in the north, it is important to provide certainty to potential travelers as early as possible. Governments have declared their intention to support a resumption of travel. Answering questions about vaccination validity is key,” Walsh said.