The director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) blamed the UK government for implementing excessive and non-scientific travel restrictions immediately upon hearing the news of the Omicron variant.
“We are going to have more of them [variants]. We can’t keep shutting down aviation and shutting down economies when, in reality, it’s not providing any measures to restrict the transmission of the virus and, more importantly, it’s doing huge damage to the industry,” said Willie Walsh at a media briefing on Wednesday.
The UK government reinstated the red list and restricted flights from southern African countries from where the variant was first reported. Concurrently, many countries around the world, including the European Union, restricted air travel.
It was the UK government’s swift and harsh overnight response that initiated the comment from Walsh, who claimed that there was no evidence that proved travel restrictions actually work. “Based on all of the data available in the UK, these measures are excessive. I’d like to think they will be reviewed and removed as quickly as possible.”
Walsh said that the airline industry was made a scapegoat by governments around the world in order to impede people’s freedom of travel. “It’s clear to us the travel industry and airlines in particular are being used as the poster child to transmit fear, to transmit the messages that governments want to force people to continue to restrict their movements.”
Walsh presented the chart by IATA that showed that despite global travel restrictions moving from total closure in the early-2020s to easing towards regional restrictions and mandatory quarantines, there was no apparent connection to new variants popping up now and then.
He added that when the UK started travel restrictions in May last year, there were 54,000 recorded infections of COVID-19, but now it’s more than 10 million.
“The impact of travel restrictions on cases is unclear. I would go further, and say that there is no correlation between the introduction of these restrictions and the effect that it’s having on the transmission of the virus.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also pushed for lesser travel restrictions. The organization claimed that blanket travel restrictions can “disincentivize countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data,” South Africa was praised by WHO for the prompt reporting as well as taking necessary actions to identify and sequence the Omicron variant.
Moreover, Walsh said that authorities should look into the pricing of COVID-19 testing companies.
“I hope governments and competition regulators step in and stop consumers being ripped off,” Walsh said. “I do think we need to understand how that has happened and where all the money (has) gone.”
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) was looking into testing companies providing below-par services to customers following complaints earlier this year. The companies have made more than $660 million since non-essential travel resumed in May.