The International Air Transport Association (Iata), the representative body for the global airline industry, has called on governments to adhere to the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and at once lift all travel bans imposed to try and counter the Omicron variant of Covid-19. The WHO and other public health organisations have advised that such travel bans do not prevent the spread of the disease.
“After nearly two years with Covid-19 we know a lot about the virus and the inability of travel restrictions to control its spread,” highlighted Iata director-general Willie Walsh. “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.”
The WHO not only warns that travel bans do not stop the spread of Covid-19 variants, but that they weigh heavily on livelihoods and indeed lives. Moreover, the practice of imposing such bans could undermine the fight against Covid by inducing countries not to report new data on the disease and actual or possible new variants.
“The goal is to move away from the uncoordinated, evidence absent, risk-unassessed mess that travellers face,” he asserted. “As governments agreed at ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation] and in line with the WHO advice, all measures should be time-bound and regularly reviewed. It is unacceptable that rushed decisions have created fear and uncertainty among travellers just as many are about to embark on year-end visits to family or hard-earned vacations.”
Iata called on governments to actually implement the commitments they had made at ICAO. These included setting up an international civil aviation multilayer risk management strategy, and ensuring that that strategy was non-discriminatory, proportional and adaptable. Further, the strategy would be guided, in close coordination and cooperation with the public health sector, by scientific evidence. To the maximum possible extent, the agreed measures would be harmonised and standardised internationally. Such measures would be subject to regular reviews.
“Despite this clear commitment, very few governments have addressed early over-reactions to Omicron,” said Walsh. “With the European CDC [Centre for Disease Control and Prevention] 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.”