The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has criticised the imposition of “ill-advised travel bans” to counter the Omicron variant, declaring them “as as ineffective as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.”
“The emergence of the Omicron variant panicked many governments into once again restricting or entirely removing the freedom to travel—even though WHO clearly advised that ‘blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” said IATA director Willie Walsh.
“The logic of the WHO advice was evident within days of Omicron’s identification in South Africa, with its presence already confirmed in all continents,” he continued.
Closing borders won’t stop the spread
“Closing borders will not prevent the spread of new variants,” said Julia Simpson, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Commission (WTTC).
“The latest variant is increasingly being detected in countries around the world. The way to keep safe is to focus on the vaccination status of individual travellers rather than placing whole countries onto red lists.”
“Rather than stigmatising countries such as South Africa, which rely heavily on a strong Travel & Tourism, we should be applauding them for identifying this new variant so quickly,” she added.
“Until we fully understand this new variant we must focus on prioritising the world distribution of vaccines while adopting sensible measures such as wearing masks.”
Before the detection of the Omicron variant, IATA October data showed improvement in the aviation sector:
• Total demand for air travel in October 2021 was down 49.4% compared to October 2019, but an improvement over the 53.3% fall recorded in September 2021, compared to two years earlier.
• Domestic markets were down 21.6% compared to October 2019, bettering the 24.2% decline recorded in September versus September 2019.
• International passenger demand in October was 65.5% below October 2019, compared to a 69.0% decline for September versus the 2019 period, with all regions showing improvement.
• North American carriers experienced a 57.0% traffic drop in October versus the 2019 period, improved from a 61.4% decline in September 2021 compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity dropped 43.2%, and load factor fell 20.0 percentage points to 62.4%.
“October’s traffic performance reinforces that people will travel when they are permitted to. Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant are putting at risk the global connectivity it has taken so long to rebuild,” said Walsh.