Airports and airlines call for all restrictions to be removed
Two years after the start of the pandemic, both the IATA and the ACI affirm that the measures to contain the circulation of new variants of the virus have been ineffective
ACI EUROPE (Airports Council International) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called for the removal of all remaining COVID restrictions that apply to travel within the EU and the Schengen area, including all testing requirements, the need to present proof of vaccination, or complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF). This includes ceasing the use of masks for travel within or between States where it is no longer required in other indoor environments.
COVID-19, and specifically the Omicron variant, is now widespread across Europe, and population immunity is at such levels that the risk of hospitalization or death has been dramatically reduced, especially for vaccinated people. States are adopting surveillance strategies to ensure public health, just as they do for other coronaviruses and infectious diseases.
Many European states have lifted internal COVID restrictions, such as the need to provide health credentials to enter social events or the requirement to wear masks in public spaces. Contact tracing efforts are also being scaled back, making PLFs for international travel redundant. As European countries open up and remove restrictions, it makes sense to remove similar restrictions from air travel.
IATA and ACI EUROPE presented additional evidence in support of the alignment of air transport rules with national regulations.
New research from OXERA/Edge Health (pdf) published today shows that even if a new variant is discovered and travel restrictions are introduced immediately, this only delays the peak of infections by a maximum of just four days.
In reality, by the time a new variant emerges, is identified, and restrictions are put in place, the variant is likely already circulating in communities around the world. In a scenario where restrictions are delayed a week from identification, the peak of infections per 100,000 people is only delayed by a maximum of two days. Therefore, these insignificant health benefits are outweighed by the significant social and economic harm caused by the negative impact of air travel.
“March 11 marks exactly two years since the WHO announced that COVID-19 was a global pandemic. In that time, we have seen mounting evidence that border restrictions are ineffective. The latest research from OXERA and Edge Health confirms that by the time a variant of concern is identified and restrictions are put in place, cross-border transmission will already have occurred. The immunity of the population of Europe is strong and COVID-19 is now essentially an endemic disease. The time has come to focus your COVID efforts on surveillance and remove any remaining restrictions within the EU. This will free people to travel and support the return of jobs to the European air transport and travel sectors,” said Rafael Schvartzman, IATA Regional Vice President for Europe.
“Independent research and modeling released today show that governments can confidently lift restrictions, both for today and for any future variations of concern. Travel restrictions have proven to be a blunt instrument with little or no impact on virus transmission. The removal of all COVID-19 restrictions will finally fully restore the freedom to travel. It will be a much-needed boost for all travel and tourism sectors that have been forced to cut hundreds of thousands of jobs during the pandemic,” said Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI EUROPE.
In light of new research and growing signs that the severity of COVID-19 is approaching that of seasonal flu, ACI EUROPE and IATA jointly wrote to the Ministers of Transport and Health of the EU member states , requesting the following:
- remove all health-related travel and border restrictions before the summer season, at least on flights within the EEA, specifically testing, contact tracing and vaccination certificates
- align health restrictions applicable to aviation with those applied at the national level, in particular with reference to mask mandates
- allow passengers vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine to travel to the EEA from third countries under the same conditions as passengers vaccinated with an EMA-approved vaccine.
ACI EUROPE and IATA also reiterated the vital role that the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) plays in giving states the confidence to reopen borders and restart travel.
“We would like to take this opportunity to applaud the EU and the Member States for the development and implementation of the EU DCC. We strongly support the value of the EU DCC, which will continue to be crucial, especially for European citizens traveling abroad, as well as for third countries. In addition, the EU DCC will be helpful in containing possible variants of concern and improving the resilience of the industry against future health outbreaks,” the letter said.