Governments should scrap travel bans and barriers, including quarantine and testing, for those fully vaccinated with a World Health Organization (WHO) - approved vaccine and enable quarantine-free travel for the non-vaccinated with negative pre-departure antigen test results.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) issued the statement this week as COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to the endemic stage.
Travelers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread than already exists in the general population, the association underscored.
“With the experience of the Omicron variant, scientific evidence opposes the targeting of travelers with restrictions and country bans to control the spread of COVID-19. The measures have not worked," IATA Director General Willie Walsh argued.
"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 pointed out.
"The billions spent testing travelers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems.”
Travel restrictions in any part of the world have had little impact on the spread of COVID-19, including the Omicron variant, the IATA Director General reiterated.
The UK, France and Switzerland have recognized this and are among the first to begin removing travel measures. More governments need to follow their lead.
"Accelerating the removal of travel restrictions will be a major step towards living with the virus,” Walsh stressed.
Last week, the WHO Emergency Committee confirmed its recommendation to “lift or ease international traffic bans as they do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress".
"The failure of travel restrictions introduced after the detection and reporting of Omicron variant to limit international spread of Omicron demonstrates the ineffectiveness of such measures over time,” the WHO Committee affirmed.
COVID-19 is becoming endemic, meaning humankind now has the tools (including vaccination and therapeutics) to live and travel with the disease, bolstered by growing population immunity.
Already, public health experts are batting for a policy shift from an individual’s health status to that focusing on population-wide protection.
Hence, governments and the travel industry should prepare for the transition and remove the burden of measures that disrupt travel.
“The current situation of travel restrictions is a mess. There is one problem—COVID-19. But there seem to be more unique solutions to managing travel and COVID-19 than there are countries to travel to," Walsh lamented.
The Migration Policy Institute counted more than 100,000 travel measures around the world that create complexity for passengers, airlines and governments to manage.
"We have two years of experience to guide us on a simplified and coordinated path to normal travel when COVID-19 is endemic. That normality must recognize that travelers, with very few exceptions, will present no greater risk than exists in the general population," according to the IATA executive.
"And that’s why travelers should not be subject to any greater restrictions than are applied to the general community,” he underscored.
Mutually recognized policies on vaccination will be critical as COVID19 approaches 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.