IATA calls on States to reverse travel bans in wake of new Covid-19 strain


A fleet of Kenya Airways planes at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in this photo taken on July 15, 2020. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) wants governments across the globe to rescind a decision on flights ban and follow the advice issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the management of the new variant.

Public health organisations, including WHO, have advised against travel curbs to contain the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant that was first discovered in South Africa.

A number of countries in the world have introduced travel bans in response to this latest strain of the coronavirus.

“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,” IATA said.

“Blanket travel bans will 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.”

The lobby says WHO has advised that states implementing measures such as screening or quarantine “need to be defined following a thorough risk assessment process informed by the local epidemiology in departure and destination countries and by the health system and public health capacities in the countries of departure, transit and arrival.

“All measures should be commensurate with the risk, time-limited and applied with respect to travellers’ dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms, as outlined in the International Health Regulations,” the agency said.

A number of countries, especially in Europe, have imposed strict measures on passengers travelling from Southern Africa.

Some of the countries like the UK, however, have resumed flight connections to South Africa after a temporary stop because of the new variant. This notwithstanding, South Africa and a number of its neighbouring states have been placed on the red list.

The move implies that passengers returning from these countries have to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine for 10 days at their own cost.

Switzerland has also tightened travel restrictions with scheduled flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe having been suspended.

In addition, people entering the country from southern Africa, as well as from Hong Kong, Israel, Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Malawi and other countries have to show a negative Corona test and spend a mandatory 10 days in quarantine.

European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) in the latest update to its Threat Assessment Brief on the implications of Omicron in Europe 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.”

IATA urges governments to reconsider all Omicron measures.

“The goal is to move away from the uncoordinated, evidence absent, risk-unassessed mess that travelers face,” said IATA.