The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling on governments to follow World Health Organization (WHO) advice and immediately rescind travel bans that have been introduced in response to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The WHO advice for international traffic in relation to the Omicron variant states that “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, while they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”.
The same WHO advice also notes that measures such as screening or quarantine need to be defined following a thorough risk assessment process informed by the local epidemiology in departure and destination countries, as well as by the health system and public health capacities in the countries of departure, transit and arrival.
“After nearly two years with COVID-19 we know a lot about the virus and the inability of travel restrictions to control its spread. But the discovery of the Omicron variant induced instant amnesia on governments which implemented knee-jerk restrictions in complete contravention of advice from the WHO—the global expert,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said.
Omicron measures should be reconsidered
IATA urges governments to reconsider all Omicron measures.
“The goal is to move away from the uncoordinated, evidence absent, risk-unassessed mess that travelers face,” Walsh said.
As governments agreed at ICAO and in line with the WHO advice, all measures should be time-bound and regularly reviewed.
According to Walsh, once a measure is put in place, it is very challenging to get governments to consider reviewing it, let alone removing it, even when there is plenty of evidence pointing in that direction.
“This is why is it essential that governments commit to a review period when any new measure is introduced. If there is an over-reaction—as we believe is the case with Omicron—we must have a way to limit the damage and get back on the right track,” Walsh added.