UNWTO commends WHO for ending COVID-19 emergency status
• Highlights New Assessment Of Pandemic-Related Travel Restrictions
Based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) review that COVID-19 is now an established and ongoing health issue, which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has welcomed the end of the public health emergency phase with a summary analysis of the travel restrictions introduced in response to the pandemic.
While releasing its analysis of both the introduction and lifting of travel restrictions during all stages of the pandemic’s emergency phase, UNWTO noted that the development is a major milestone in the global effort to combat the virus.
The analysis tagged “The end of COVID-19 Travel Restrictions: Summary Of Findings From The COVID-19 Related Travel Restrictions Reports” highlights key findings of the 11 reports published by the United Nations Specialised Agency for tourism on the issue.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, these reports provided the global tourism sector with timely guidance and assessments on travel restrictions, and examined factors influencing those restrictions, such as tourism’s economic importance, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) and a specific Health and Hygiene Indicator (H&H), as well as grouping destinations according to economic blocs. This allowed for a deeper analysis of the relationship between travel restrictions and sustainability issues.
On the development, UNWTO Boss, Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvil, said: “We welcome WHO’s decision to end the emergency status for COVID-19. This is an important signal and a moment to stand back and reflect on how we can overcome challenges only in a collaborative manner. We must ensure that we learn the lessons from this phase of the pandemic, including the ones on travel restrictions. This new UNWTO report will help in this endeavour and be another milestone in UNWTO’s actions that guided the sector through these unprecedented times.”
On the varied, dynamic approach to travel restrictions, findings reveal a diverse response from destinations worldwide on travel restrictions.
They show that those with better environmental performance, higher health and hygiene standards, and a greater reliance on tourism tended to lift travel restrictions earlier, which allowed for faster recovery in terms of international tourist arrivals. Conversely, emerging economies and Small Island Development States (SIDS) often imposed full border closures more quickly, maintained them for longer time and introduced additional requirements for travellers.
The new report provides an overview on the evolution of travel restrictions, which peaked in May 2020 when 75 per cent of all destinations worldwide had their borders completely closed, bringing international tourism almost to a standstill. With better understanding of the virus, a more risk-based approach became possible and allowed destinations to replace complete border closure with softer measures, such as testing and vaccination requirements for tourists.
Finally, this new report highlights the current situation with nearly all destinations having lifted COVID-19 related travel restrictions. However, as of March 22, 2023, 18 destinations still required vaccination as a condition for entry, which is not consistent with international health regulation provisions or current temporary WHO recommendations. UNWTO will continue its close cooperation with WHO, monitoring the situation.
Noting the vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic, UNWTO emphasised the need for a comprehensive re-evaluation of travel restrictions, recovery strategies and the intricate interplay between the environment, health and tourism sectors.