The world’s travel and tourism industry is calling on governments to keep borders open and facilitate travel with vigilance despite the emergence of the fast-spreading Omicron variant of Covid-19, which has now made its way to Greece, France, the US, Australia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy, Israel, the UK, Scotland, Germany, South Korea, Canada and dozens of other countries.
The World Tourism and Travel Council (WTTC), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) are advising against “blanket travel bans” in response to the Omicron variant which will only impact the levels of traveler confidence regained in the last year.
So far more than 30 countries have closed their borders to incoming travelers from some nations, while others have tightened restrictions. China, Japan, Israel, and Morocco have closed their borders completely.
Travel Restrictions Not Long-term Solution
“Governments are responding to the risks of the new coronavirus variant in emergency mode causing fear among the traveling public,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh, who went on to call for a “coordinated data-driven approach that finds safe alternatives to border closures and quarantine”.
“Travel restrictions are not a long-term solution to control Covid variants,” he added.
At the same time, WTTC President & CEO Julia Simpson echoed WHO which said that essential travel should continue with stringent measures and vigilance.
“Closing borders will not prevent the spread of new variants. The latest variant is increasingly being detected in countries around the world. The way to keep safe is to focus on the vaccination status of individual travelers rather than placing whole countries onto red lists,” Simpson said.
In its statement earlier this week, the WHO condemned “blanket travel bans”, proposing instead that essential international travelers be prioritized. Other travelers should “remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of Covid-19, to get vaccinated when it is their turn and to adhere to public health and social measures at all times and regardless of vaccination status”, it said.
After WHO named Omicron a “variant of concern” last week, at least 56 countries introduced travel restrictions many of which banned travel from African nations.
Countries Considering Tougher Measures
In the meantime, the US is considering tougher travel restrictions after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) reported the first case of the new Covid Omicron variant in the country.
UK authorities are also considering tightening border restrictions and testing requirements in view of an imminent fourth wave of Covid and the fast spread of Omicron.
Europe is also on high alert. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference this week to “prepare for the worst, hope for the best.”
In Greece, where the first case of the Omicron variant was identified on Thursday, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that all citizens 60 or over must be vaccinated or face a 100-euro fine as part of the government’s latest effort to stem the spread of Covid-19 without going into lockdown. Additionally, the country has pushed forward its booster campaign.
Experts are calling for strict adherence to health measures noting that it will take weeks to assess the risk and transmission rate of the new variant.