With Omicron grabbing global headlines, both global nations and international travelers are wary of the latest variant, a super-fast virus spreader. Travel bans from certain countries are becoming more prominent, reminders of harsh and traumatic 2020 lockdowns due to COVID-19.
But if this can be controlled with more vaccinations and enforcement of COVID protocols, according to travel experts, and the path back to normalcy felt throughout 2021 can continue.
The report reveals how five fundamental factors, mainly savings and spending, supply chains, digital acceleration, global travel, and a growing list of economic risks will continue to shape the global economy.
It found that leisure travel recovery continues as international travel opens up, with medium- and long-haul flights to gain ground in 2022. The return to travel in 2021 was on full display but continued growth hinges on containing virus variants that drive travel bans. There was a swift rebound in domestic and short-haul international travel (less than 1,000 km), medium-haul travel (under 2,900 km) lifted by fewer restrictions, but long-haul travel trails behind.
In the UAE, domestic trips are around 18% of pre-pandemic levels, with international short, medium and, long-haul trips at 80%, 30%, and 112%, respectively.
Travel bans don’t work: IATA
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently called for governments to follow World Health Organization (WHO) advice and immediately rescind travel bans that were introduced in response to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Public health organizations, including the WHO, have advised against travel curbs to contain the spread of Omicron. The WHO advice for international traffic in relation to the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant states that:
“Blanket travel bans will not prevent (the virus’s) 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 disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.”
“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,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General.
The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) in the latest update to its Threat Assessment Brief on the implications of Omicron in Europe notes that the increasing number of cases and clusters in the EU/EEA took place without a travel history or contact with travel-related cases.
Adoption of COVID measures
IATA also called on governments to adopt simple, predictable, and practical measures to safely and efficiently facilitate the ramping-up of international travel as borders re-open.
The industry’s vision to address the complexity is outlined in the newly released policy paper: From Restart to Recovery: A Blueprint for Simplifying Travel.
The Blueprint aims to facilitate the efficient ramping-up of global connectivity. “Over 100,000 COVID-19 related measures have been implemented by governments worldwide. This complexity is a barrier to global mobility that is exacerbated by the inconsistencies these measures have created among states,” said IATA’s Deputy Director-General Conrad Clifford.
Key recommendations include:
- Remove all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine.
- Enable quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travelers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result.
These recommendations are supported by public opinion research of travelers which revealed that:
- 80% believe that vaccinated people should be able to travel freely
- 81% believe that testing before travel is an acceptable alternative to vaccination
- 73% believe that quarantine is not necessary for vaccinated travelers
- 88% support standardized vaccination and testing certificates
- 87% will share personal health data via an app if it saves processing time
- 87% believe that governments must find the right balance in managing COVID-19 and enabling an economic recovery
- 86% believe that borders should be progressively re-opened as vaccination coverage and testing capacity grow
- 85% believe that mask-wearing on board is critical in the pandemic, but 62% believe that the requirement should be removed as soon as possible