IATA backs WHO advice

The International Air Transport Association has called for governments to follow World Health Organization advice and immediately rescind Omicron-related travel bans.

Public health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), have advised against travel curbs to contain the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

WHO advice for international traffic in relation to Omicron states that: “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they 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.”

IATA director general Willie Walsh said: “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 in governments which implemented knee-jerk restrictions in complete contravention of advice from the WHO—the global expert.”

The industry association has urged governments to reconsider all Omicron measures. “The goal is to move away from the uncoordinated, evidence absent, risk-unassessed mess that travellers face. As governments agreed at ICAO 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,” Walsh added.  

European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) in the latest update to its Threat Assessment Brief on the implications of Omicron in Europe notes that “given the increasing number of cases and clusters in the EU/EEA without a travel history or contact with travel-related cases, it is likely that within the coming weeks the effectiveness of travel-related measures will significantly decrease, and countries should prepare for a rapid and measured de-escalation of such measures.”

“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.  That 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,” said Walsh.

“And even in more normal circumstances, we must recognise that our understanding of the disease can grow exponentially even in a short period of time. Whatever measures are in place need to be constantly justified against the latest and most accurate scientific knowledge.”