Air transport body urges governments to revoke omicron travel bans

IATA chief calls for travel bans to be rescinded as WHO says omicron may cause milder symptoms than delta

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Wednesday urged governments to follow advice from the World Health Organization and immediately rescind travel bans introduced since the emergence of the coronavirus omicron variant.

“There is some evidence that omicron causes milder disease than delta, but again,it’s still too early to be definitive,” WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said in a news webinar.

He urged people to avoid complacency about the omicron variant because it “will cost lives.”

“Many of those who don’t die could be left battling long COVID, or post-COVID condition, a disease with debilitating, lingering symptoms that we are only beginning to understand,” he said.

Tedros said emerging data from South Africa suggest an increased risk of reinfection with omicron but more information is needed to draw firmer conclusions.

He thanked Botswana and South Africa for rapidly detecting, sequencing, and reporting the variant.

“It is deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing,” he said.

Tedros urged all countries to take rational and proportional measures in line with international health regulations.

‘Omicron induced instant amnesia’

Willie Walsh, director general of IATA, said the world knows a lot about the virus after nearly two years, including the inability of travel restrictions to control its spread.

“But the discovery of the omicron variant induced instant amnesia on governments, who implemented knee-jerk restrictions in complete contravention of advice from the WHO, the global expert,” he said.

He said public health organizations, including the WHO, advised against travel curbs as measures to contain the spread of omicron after it was first detected in southern Africa.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” said Walsh, citing WHO advice.

“In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.”

The IATA chief said all countries should ensure that measures are regularly reviewed and updated when new evidence becomes available about omicron or any other variants of concern.

“Despite this clear commitment, very few governments have addressed early overreactions to omicron,” he said.

With the European Center for Diseases Control already signaling that a de-escalation of measures will likely be needed in the coming weeks, governments need to urgently act on the commitments they made to the International Civil Aviation Organization, he stressed.


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