On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged governments against imposing blanket travel bans in response to the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, stating that such measures “will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

The World Health Organization has also issued a travel advisory, urging nations to use “an evidence-informed and risk-based approach” when implementing any travel precautions, such as possible screening or quarantining of international travellers.

Several countries around the world have imposed travel restrictions in the week since South Africa announced the new Covid-19 strain, with the majority targeting southern African countries.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, said he understood the concerns regarding Omicron. However, he added, “I am equally concerned that several member states are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities.”

While scientific study is being conducted, WHO has recommended countries to follow the following guidelines:

– Countries should continue to implement travel precautions in compliance with the International Health Regulations (IHR), including the latest Temporary Recommendations released by the WHO Director-General on October 26 following the 9th Emergency Committee for COVID-19.

– National authorities in the country of departure, transit, and arrival may use a multi-layered risk mitigation strategy to potentially delay and/or reduce the spread or importation of the new variant.

– Screening of passengers before travel and/or upon arrival, including the use of COVID testing or the imposition of quarantine on overseas travellers, are examples of such measures. These measures, nonetheless, must be defined after a thorough risk assessment.

– Blanket travel bans will not stop the spread of the disease internationally, and will put a heavy burden on people’s lives and businesses. Furthermore, they have the potential to undermine global health efforts during a pandemic by discouraging countries from reporting and sharing epidemiological and sequencing data.

– When new research on the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of Omicron or any other VOC becomes available, all countries should guarantee that the measures are evaluated and updated on a regular basis.

– Any risk mitigation measures connected to travel should be part of a larger national response strategy. For example, increasing surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants, not just among travellers but also inside the population.

– During the COVID-19 pandemic, important international travel, including travel for emergency and humanitarian missions, travel of essential personnel, repatriations, and cargo delivery of essential supplies, should be prioritised at all times.

– Additionally, all travellers should be reminded to watch for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, be vaccinated when the time comes, and follow all public health and social precautions at all times, regardless of vaccination status.

– People 60 years of age and older, as well as those with comorbidities that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer, and diabetes), should postpone travel to areas with community transmission. This includes those who are sick, have not been fully vaccinated, or do not have proof of previous COVID-19 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying.

– WHO has been monitoring international travel precautions taken by nations from the start of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak and sharing this information with National IHR Focal Points via the Event Information Site (EIS). As of November 28, 2021, 56 countries were reportedly enacting travel restrictions in order to delay the introduction of the new variant. Under the terms of Article 43 of the IHR (2005), countries should continue to share their public health rationale and relevant scientific information for additional health measures with WHO.

– India’s new age travel digital media

Also Read: Omicron has “not overwhelmed us”, “situation is not of huge concern to us” in South Africa


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