The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged states to heed World Health Organization (WHO) guidance and promptly lift travel bans imposed in response to the Omicron coronavirus variant.
To combat the spread of Omicron, public health organisations such as the WHO have cautioned against imposing travel restrictions. In relation to the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron form, WHO guideline for international traffic states: “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 disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data. 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.”
According to the same WHO recommendation, states should use screening or quarantine and need to be defined after a rigorous risk assessment process informed by local epidemiology in departure and destination countries, as well as health systems and public health capacities in departure, transit, and arrival nations. As specified in the International Health Regulations, such actions should be proportionate to the danger, time-limited, and used with regard for passengers’ dignity, human rights, and basic freedoms.
IATA Director General Willie Walsh stated, “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 expert.”
All Omicron measures should be reconsidered, according to IATA. Walsh said, “The goal is to move away from the uncoordinated, evidence absent, risk-unassessed mess that travelers 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 travelers just as many are about to embark on year-end visits to family or hard-earned vacations.”
The industry demand requests governments to follow through on pledges made through the international civil aviation organization (ICAO):
“We also commit to a multilayer risk management strategy for international civil aviation, which is adaptable, proportionate, non-discriminatory and guided by scientific evidence in close cooperation and coordination with the public health sector, with agreed practices harmonized to the greatest extent possible, for air travel purposes, using commonly accepted epidemiological criteria, testing requirements and vaccination, and underpinned by regular review, monitoring and timely information-sharing among States,” (ICAO HLCC Ministerial Declaration))
Walsh continued, “Despite this clear commitment, very few governments have addressed early over-reactions to Omicron. With the European CDC already signaling 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.”
In the most recent update to its Threat Assessment Brief on the implications of Omicron in Europe, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) notes that given the increasing number of cases and clusters in the EU/EEA without a travel history or contact with travel-related cases, the effectiveness of travel-related measures is likely to decrease significantly in the coming weeks, and countries should prepare for a rapid and measured de-escalation of the outbreak.
According to Walsh, even when there is lots of data pointing in that direction, getting governments to contemplate considering, let alone repealing, a legislation is extremely difficult. That is why, whenever a new measure is implemented, governments must commit to a review period. He says we need a means to mitigate the impact and get back on track if there is an overreaction, which he feels is the case with Omicron.
He goes on to add that even in more ordinary circumstances, we must acknowledge that our knowledge about the disease might expand dramatically in a short amount of time. Whatever precautions are in place must be regularly justified in light of the most up-to-date and reliable scientific information.
– India’s new age travel digital media