IATA called for removing all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine, enabling quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result, removing travel bans, and accelerating the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for Covid-19 spread than already exists in the general population.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, commented: “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 travellers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening healthcare systems.”
Travel restrictions have limited impact on Covid spread
A recently published study by Oxera and Edge Health 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 three per cent fewer cases. The absence of any testing measures for travellers would have seen the Omicron wave peak seven days earlier with an overall eight-per-cent increase in cases.
“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 recognised 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.
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.