Calling for the adoption of “unique solutions” to manage global travel, IATA Director General Willie Walsh, in a statement on Tuesday, urged governments to accelerate the relaxation of travel restrictions for fully vaccinated passengers with a WHO-approved vaccine as Covid-19 continued to evolve from the “pandemic to endemic stage”.
Walsh said it was the need of the hour to remove all travel barriers, including quarantine and testing, for fully vaccinated individuals as “with the experience of the Omicron variant, there is no mounting scientific evidence and opinion opposing the targeting of travellers with restrictions and country bans to control the spread of Covid-19.”
“These measures have not worked. Today Omicron is present in all parts of the world. That’s why travel, with very few exceptions, does not increase the risk to general populations,” he said.
The IATA chief said an amount running into billions spent on testing travellers would be far more effective if it was allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems.
“All indications point to Covid-19 becoming an endemic condition — one that humankind now has the tools (including vaccination and therapeutics) to live and travel with, bolstered by growing population immunity,” the statement said.
Walsh said it was important that governments and the travel industry were well prepared for the transition and ready to remove the burden of measures that disrupted travel.
He said there seemed to be more unique solutions to managing travel and Covid-19 than there were countries to travel to.
“Indeed research from the Migration Policy Institute has counted more than 100,000 travel measures around the world that create complexity for passengers, airlines and governments to manage,” he pointed out.
He said all countries now had at least two years of experience to be guided on a simplified and coordinated path to normalise travel “when Covid-19 is endemic”.
“That normality must recognise that travellers, with very few exceptions, will present no greater risk than exists in the general population. And that’s why travellers should not be subject to any greater restrictions than are applied to the general community,” said Walsh.
The IATA emphasised that mutually recognised policies on vaccination would be critical as the world approached the “endemic phase”.
“Barrier-free travel is a potent incentive for vaccination. The sustainability of this incentive must not be compromised by vaccine policies that complicate travel or divert vaccine resources from where they can do the most good.”