The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called for an end to wildly inconsistent COVID-19 travel restrictions that are stalling the recovery of air transport. It urged governments to implement simplified regimes to manage the risks of COVID-19 as borders re-open to international travel.
Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General said: “Travel restrictions bought governments time to respond in the early days of the pandemic. Nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists. COVID-19 is present in all parts of the world. Travel restrictions are a complex and confusing web of rules with very little consistency among them. And there is little evidence to support ongoing border restrictions and the economic havoc they created.”
Testing results for UK arriving passengers demonstrate that travelers are not adding risk to the local population. “Of the three million arrivals between February and August only 42,000 tested positive—or fewer than 250 a day. Meanwhile, the daily case count in the UK is 35,000 and the economy—apart from international travel—is wide open. People should be just as free to travel,” said Walsh.
IATA said in the last months, several key markets that had previously been closed have taken steps to open to vaccinated travelers. Among markets that were previously closed, Europe was an early mover, followed by Canada, the UK, the US and Singapore. Even Australia, which has some of the most draconian restrictions, is taking steps to re-open its borders to vaccinated travelers by November.
According to IATA, a recent survey of the top 50 travel markets, accounting for 92% of global traffic, reveals an urgent need for simplification of the various measures governments are using to manage the risks of COVID-19.
“There is far too much complexity in the way borders are re-opening. The potential for a global re-connect could be hijacked by bureaucracies favoring stand-alone “made-at-home” solutions over approaches that work across borders. The situation is a mess. It’s stalling recovery. Complete harmonization is unlikely. But some simple best practices that travelers can comprehend should be achievable,” Walsh added.
COVID-19 measures must not be allowed to become permanent. “Measures must remain in place only for as long as they are needed—and not a day longer. As we do with many safety regulations, defined review periods are needed. Otherwise, as we said in the aftermath of 9.11, well-intentioned measures could remain in place long after they are necessary, or have become technologically or scientifically obsolete,” Walsh said.
“The most important result that the ICAO HLCC could achieve is bringing commitment from states to reduce the evolving complexity. The second most important achievement would be recognition that we must return to normal and the production of harmonized guidance on how to do so, including the sunsetting of measures,” Walsh stated.
On the digitalization of health credentials, Walsh noted: “Europe has made a good start. The EU Digital COVID Certificate (EU DCC) is an efficient and reliable standard to record test and vaccination status. If governments are looking for a standard to follow, this is our recommendation. And if governments are looking for a ready-made solution to manage travel health credentials using e-gates, IATA Travel Pass is a solution. Irrespective of government use, an automated solution is essential for airlines. They will need to manage documentation verification using automated check-ins. If not, airport wait times and congestion will skyrocket as travel volumes increase. After extensive testing, it’s great to see IATA Travel Pass entering regular operations.”