The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging
global governments to follow advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and
reconsider all travel restrictions introduced following the emergence of the
Omicron Covid-19 variant.
The WHO has said that “blanket travel bans will not prevent
the international spread” of Omicron and that such measures “place a heavy
burden on lives and livelihoods. In addition, they can adversely impact global
health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivising countries to report and
share epidemiological and sequencing data”.
Furthermore, the WHO suggests “all countries should ensure
that the measures are regularly reviewed and updated when new evidence becomes
available on the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of Omicron or any
other variants of concern”.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, commented: “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
IATA is now urging governments to implement commitments made
through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which state that
countries would adopt a “multilayer risk management strategy” for aviation
which is “adaptable, proportionate, non-discriminatory and guided by scientific
evidence in close cooperation and coordination with the public health sector”.
Walsh said: “Despite this clear commitment, very few governments
have addressed early over-reactions to Omicron. With the European CDC already
signalling that a de-escalation of measures will likely be needed in the coming
weeks, governments must urgently put actions behind the commitments that they
made at ICAO.”
Travel industry experts have questioned why blanket travel
restrictions remain in place in some countries, particularly where the Omicron
variant is now proven to have community transmission where some cases have no
link to international travel, as is the situation in the UK.
The UK has added several African nations to its travel red
list after health authorities in South Africa reported the new variant, preventing non-citizens and residents from entering from those countries
and forcing even vaccinated citizens to book and pay for managed 10-day quarantine
in a hotel on arrival, as well as PCR tests before departure and on days two
and eight after arrival. Travellers arriving from other countries must now take
a PCR test within 48 hours of departure and another on or before their second
day of arrival – and they must self-isolate until they receive a negative
The UK government has promised to review these travel
policies on 20 December, however health secretary Sajid Javid suggested in a
House of Commons address on 8 December that travel restrictions could be eased in
a matter of days or weeks if Omicron proves to be the dominant variant, as was
the case when the Delta variant took hold in the country.
Walsh commented: “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.”