The International Air Transport Association is demanding governments follow World Health Organisation (WHO) advice and rescind travel bans introduced in response to latest Covid-19 variant.
WHO advice for international traffic in the Omicron variant said: “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.
“They can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivising countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.”
The British government has put 11 African countries on its red list – which means arrivals in the UK must quarantine in a hotel – and reintroduced testing requirements for travellers.
Willie Walsh, IATA director-general, said: “After nearly two years with Covid-19 we know 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.
“The goal is to move away from the uncoordinated, evidence absent, risk-unassessed mess that travellers face.
“It is unacceptable that rushed decisions have created fear and uncertainty among travellers just as many are about to embark on year-end visits to family or hard-earned vacations.”
He pointed out how the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) noted that “given the increasing number of cases and clusters in the EU/EEA without a travel history or contact with travel-related cases, it is likely that within the coming weeks the effectiveness of travel-related measures will significantly decrease, and countries should prepare for a rapid and measured de-escalation of such measures”.
Walsh added: “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.
“That is why is it essential that governments commit to a review period when any new measure is introduced. If there is an over-reaction – as we believe is the case with Omicron- we must have a way to limit the damage and get back on the right track.
“And even in more normal circumstances, we must recognise that our understanding of the disease can grow exponentially even in a short period of time. Whatever measures are in place need to be constantly justified against the latest and most accurate scientific knowledge.”