IATA: Governments over-reacting to Omicron variant

Published December 9, 2021, 12:25 PM

by Emmie V. Abadilla

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said governments are over-reacting to the coronavirus Omicron variant and should immediately rescind travel bans.

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Travel bans are futile against the pandemic and will only derail the recovery of the aviation industry, stated IATA in its statement Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread (of coronavirus) and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” confirmed the World Health Organization (WHO).

“In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.”

Instead of closing their borders to travel, WHO said, “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.”

The global health organization also noted that implementing measures, such as screening or quarantine, “need to be defined following a thorough risk assessment process informed by the local epidemiology in departure and destination countries and by the health system and public health capacities in the countries of departure, transit and arrival.”

“All measures should be commensurate with the risk, time-limited and applied with respect to travelers’ dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, as outlined in the International Health Regulations.”

Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General said that after nearly two years with COVID-19, everyone should have known 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,” Walsh lamented.

IATA urged governments to reconsider all Omicron measures and commit to a review period when any new measure is introduced.

“The goal is to move away from the uncoordinated, evidence absent, risk-unassessed mess that travelers face,” he stressed.

“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,” Walsh argued.

Despite the industry’s multi-layer risk management strategy for international civil aviation, “Very few governments have addressed early over-reactions to Omicron,” he maintained.

Hence, Walsh said, “We must have a way to limit the damage and get back on the right track.”

“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.”

Earlier, IATA announced that air travel continued to recover in October 2021 with broad-based improvements in both domestic and international markets.

However, re- imposition of travel bans against WHO advice threatens the sector’s recovery.

“October’s traffic performance proved people will travel when they are permitted to,” Walsh underscored.

“Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant are putting at risk the global connectivity it has taken so long to rebuild.”

Total demand for air travel in October 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 49.4 percent compared to October 2019.

This was improved over the 53.3 percent fall recorded in September 2021, compared to two years earlier.

Domestic markets were down 21.6 percent compared to October 2019, bettering the 24.2 percent decline recorded in September versus September 2019.

International passenger demand in October was 65.5 percent below October 2019, compared to a 69.0 percent decline for September versus the 2019 period, with all regions showing improvement. ​​​​

Asia-Pacific airlines saw their October international traffic fall 92.8 percent compared to October 2019.

It was fractionally improved over the 93.1 percent decline recorded for September 2021 compared to two years ago.

Capacity dropped 83.8 percent and the load factor was down 44.0 percentage points to 35.7 percent, the lowest among regions by far.

Middle Eastern airlines had a 60.3 percent demand drop in October compared to October 2019, a huge jump over the 67.1 percent traffic drop recorded in September against September 2019.

Capacity declined 49.1 percent and load factor slipped 16.1 percentage points to 57.5 percent.

 
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