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Airlines fault UK, Canada, others on travel restriction

By Wole Oyebade
10 December 2021   |   4:09 am
World airlines, yesterday, faulted the United Kingdom and Canada, among others, over restriction of some travellers in an effort to curb the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

World airlines, yesterday, faulted the United Kingdom and Canada, among others, over restriction of some travellers in an effort to curb the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

The carriers, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), said flight restriction had proven incapable of preventing virus spread.

Hence, they called on the governments to follow World Health Organisation (WHO) advice and immediately rescind travel bans that were introduced in response to the Omicron variant.

Public health organisations, including the WHO, have advised against travel curbs to contain the spread of Omicron. WHO stated that “blanket travel bans would not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.

“In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivising countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data. 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 of concern,” WHO stated in part.

IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh, said after nearly two years with COVID-19, the operators 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,” Walsh said.

He urged governments to reconsider all Omicron measures. “The goal is to move away from the uncoordinated, evidence-absent, risk-unassessed mess that travellers face. As governments agreed at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and in line with the WHO advice, all measures should be time-bound and regularly reviewed. 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,” Walsh said.

He added that despite the clear commitment, very few governments have addressed early over-reactions to Omicron.

“With the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) already signaling that a de-escalation of measures will likely be needed in the coming weeks, governments must urgently put actions behind the commitments that they made at ICAO,” said Walsh.

ECDC in the latest update to its Threat Assessment Brief on the implications of Omicron in Europe notes 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.”

“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 it is 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 recognize 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,” Walsh said.