The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has asked governments to ease travel restrictions as COVID-19 progresses from pandemic to endemic status.
IATA advocated for removing all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine, allowing non-vaccinated travellers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result to travel without quarantine, lifting travel bans, and accelerating the easing of travel restrictions in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk of COVID-19 spread than the general population.
With the Omicron variant’s experience, there is rising scientific data and public opinion opposing the targeting of travellers with restrictions and country bans to stop the spread of COVID-19. The measures proved ineffective.
Today, Omicron may be found all over the world. That is why, with very few exceptions, travel does not increase the danger to the general population. According to Willie Walsh, Director General of IATA, the billions spent on testing travellers would be considerably more effective if used to distribute vaccines or build healthcare systems.
Oxera and Edge Health1 recently published a study that proved the relatively limited impact of travel restrictions on preventing the spread of Omicron.
The study found that:
If the UK’s extra measures2 for Omicron had been in place before the beginning of November (before the variant’s detection), the peak of the Omicron wave would have been delayed by only five days, with 3% fewer cases.
Without any testing procedures for travellers, the Omicron wave would have peaked seven days sooner, with an overall 8% increase in cases.
Because Omicron is so common in the UK, removing all travel testing regulations would have little effect on Omicron case counts or hospitalisations.
While the study was conducted in the United Kingdom, it was evident that travel restrictions in any world area had no impact on the spread of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant.
The United Kingdom, France, and Switzerland have acknowledged this and have been the first to begin easing travel restrictions. More governments must follow in their footsteps.
According to Walsh, removing travel restrictions as soon as possible will be a significant step towards living with the virus.
In terms of travel restrictions, the WHO Emergency Committee confirmed last week its advice to lift or lessen international travel bans because they provide no benefit and continue to contribute to the economic and social burden that countries are experiencing.
The failure of travel restrictions imposed upon the discovery and reporting of an Omicron variant to inhibit the international spread of Omicron reveals the ineffectiveness of such measures over time.
All evidence lead to COVID-19 being an endemic illness, one with which humanity now has the resources (including vaccine and medicines) to live and travel, aided by rising population immunity.
This is consistent with public health experts’ advice to shift policy attention away from an individual’s health condition and towards policies focusing on population-wide protection.
Governments and travel sectors must be well prepared for the change and ready to lift the weight of policies that disrupt travel.
The current travel restriction situation is a shambles. There is one issue with COVID-19. However, there appear to be more one-of-a-kind solutions to handling travel and COVID-19 than countries to visit.
Indeed, according to the Migration Policy Institute, there are over 100,000 travel measures worldwide that complicate the lives of travellers, airlines, and governments.
Mutually agreed-upon vaccination protocols will be crucial as we approach the endemic period. Free travel is a powerful inducement to be vaccinated.
Vaccine policies that hinder travel or redirect vaccine funding away from where they can do the best must not jeopardise the sustainability of this incentive.
The following issues must be addressed:
Accepted vaccines: Not all vaccines on the WHO Emergency Use list have global recognition. This creates a barrier to travel because people have limited options for vaccines in their home country.
Validity: There is no agreement on how long vaccines should be valid. As eligibility for boosters is restricted by national policies, this will constitute a barrier to travel.
Short validity periods, which effectively force air passengers to receive regular booster vaccinations to travel internationally, will deplete resources that could be used to assist primary vaccination in the developing world and booster dosages for the most vulnerable.
According to reports, the WHO’s Chief Scientist has recommended for booster dosages to be used “to safeguard the most vulnerable, those at highest risk of serious sickness and death.” These include elderly persons, immunocompromised people with underlying illnesses, and healthcare staff.
The overreaction of many countries to Omicron demonstrated the blueprint’s fundamental point: the necessity for straightforward, predictable, and practical methods of dealing with the virus that does not always default to disconnecting the world.
The successful implementation of the IATA Travel Pass continues, with an increasing number of airlines already using it in daily operations to assist the validation of travel health credentials. Whatever the criteria for vaccination requirements are, the industry will handle them through digital solutions, the most prominent of which is the IATA Travel Pass.