IATA director general Willie Walsh has cited lessons from 9/11 as he called on governments and regulators to drop Covid-related travel restrictions as soon as the health situation allows.
Restrictions on cross-border travel “must remain in place only for as long as they are needed – and not a day longer”, Walsh said during the IATA AGM in Boston today. “Otherwise, as we saw in the aftermath of 9/11, well-intentioned measures could remain in place long after they are necessary or have become technologically or scientifically obsolete.”
With those concerns in mind, Walsh welcomes signs that more governments are taking a “risk-based” approach to travel policy during the pandemic – citing recent examples such as policy changes announced by the USA and Australia – but suggests there still is room for “dramatic improvement” in many places.
“Travel restrictions bought governments time to respond in the early days of the pandemic,” he says. “Nearly two years later, that rationale no longer exists. Covid-19 is present in all parts of the world. And there is little evidence to support ongoing blanket border restrictions and the economic havoc they create.”
IATA’s vision for cross-border flying during the current stage of the pandemic is that vaccinated people should not face any barriers to travel and that those without access to vaccines should be able to travel with proof of a negative Covid-19 test – preferably one paid for by governments.
Walsh highlights vaccine inequity as a key reason for not mandating vaccination for travel, citing regions such as Africa where inoculation levels are incredibly low.
“For international markets we would not support mandatory vaccination for passengers because in many parts of the world that is just not possible,” he states.
Walsh also dismisses the idea that proof of vaccination might be necessary in domestic markets – as has been suggested by some in the USA in recent days – saying such travel is “not introducing a risk at all”.
For the time being, Walsh says that digital health credentials are important in facilitating international travel, saying there will be “chaos in airports” if paper processes are used.
“Europe has made a good start,” he states. “The EU Digital Covid Certificate is an efficient and reliable standard to record test and vaccination status. If governments are looking for a standard to follow, this is our recommendation.”
The IATA Travel Pass is then “a solution” if governments want to manage travel health credentials using e-gates, Walsh adds.
Eventually, a ”risk-based” approach by governments and regulators should mean all Covid-related travel restrictions – including the wearing of masks on board flights – being dropped, Walsh says.