Now is the time to start removing all travel barriers, including testing and quarantine protocols, for fully vaccinated travelers, despite the rise in COVID-19 cases worldwide.
That’s according to a message from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week, the trade group that represents 290 airlines and over 80% of global air traffic.
“With the experience of the Omicron variant, there is mounting scientific evidence and opinion opposing 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 said on Tuesday.
“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. The billions spent testing travelers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems,” he added.
In its statement, IATA cited a U.K.-study from Oxera and Edge Health that was commissioned by the Manchester Airport in the U.K. and published earlier this month. That study reported that domestic restrictions were ineffective at preventing the spread of Omicron in the U.K. and that even if Omicron-ERA protocols were in place in November, “they would not have had a significant impact on the spread.”
According to the study, which can be read in full here, even if testing measures were removed completely prior to Omicron’s arrival, the result would have been an early peak for the variant and an overall 8% increase in cases.
Some countries have recognized this, IATA said, including the U.K., France, and Switzerland, all of which have begun to remove travel measures. Now is the time for other governments, including ones in North America, to start following their lead.
“Accelerating the removal of travel restrictions will be a major step towards living with the virus,” Walsh said.
IATA wants the world’s governments to start accepting and preparing for the move from pandemic to endemic, one that the world has to tools to live and travel with and one that, after two years of experience, can be navigated.
“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 so greater risk than exists in the general population,” Walsh said.