IATA calls for travel restriction relaxation, says COVID-19 may be declared endemic

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to accelerate the relaxation of travel restrictions as COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage.

The clearinghouse for over 290 global airlines called for the removal of all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine.

The group equally called for enabling quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travelers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result, removal of travel bans, and accelerating the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travelers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread than already exists in the general population.

The Director-General of IATA, Willie Walsh said, “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,” he said

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IATA Director-General, Willie Walsh

Walsh further stated that 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.

He disclosed that the UK, France, and Switzerland have recognized this and are among the first to begin removing travel measures.

He urged that more governments need to follow their lead, stressing that accelerating the removal of travel restrictions would be a major step towards living with the virus.

His words, “With respect to travel bans, last week, the WHO Emergency Committee 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 the international spread of Omicron demonstrates the ineffectiveness of such measures over time.”

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The IATA boss further stated that 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”.

He described the current situation of travel restrictions as a ‘ mess’, buttressing his claim that there seem to be more unique solutions to managing travel and COVID-19 than there are countries to travel to.

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“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,” said Walsh.

Wole Shadare