Airports Council International (ACI) Europe and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have urged European governments to lift all travel restrictions for fully vaccinated and recovered individuals holding a valid Covid-19 certificate – as advised by a new regime for travel in the EU that comes into force today (Feb 1).
This new regime, set out by an EU Council Recommendation adopted on January 25, 2022, is based on the health status of travelers rather than the epidemiological situation of their country or area of origin. The organizations have sited independent research, conducted in Finland and Italy, that provides insight into developing a Europe-wide policy for removing restrictions. The research supports the validity of the traveler-centric approach, highlighting the inefficiency of recent travel restrictions imposed by European countries in mitigating the risks to public health and society posed by Covid-19.
Analysis produced by Oxera and Edge Health reveals that pre-departure testing requirements are likely to be ineffective at stopping or even limiting the spread of the Omicron variant. The analysis of testing restrictions imposed by Italy and Finland on December 16 and December 28, 2021, respectively on all incoming travelers made no distinguishable difference to the transmission of the Omicron variant cases in those countries. Conversely, the impact of these restrictions, and in particular the limitations to the free movement of people, resulted in significant and unnecessary economic hardship – not just for the travel and tourism sectors and their workforce, but for the whole European economy.
The report also shows that maintaining pre-departure testing requirements for vaccinated and recovered travelers further will have no impact on the future spread of the Omicron variant in Italy and Finland. The research also related that imposing these restrictions earlier – i.e. on the day the Omicron variant was identified as an issue by the WHO – would not have stopped its spread nor significantly limited it in Italy and Finland. This is attributed to the fact that variants circulate well ahead of the time by which they are identified, which is the reason why both the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) generally consider travel restrictions to be ineffective.
Despite welcoming the countries’ lifting of pre-departure testing requirements, the IATA and ACI Europe have voiced two concerns: firstly, that both countries could have lifted them much earlier or altogether avoided imposing them in the first place, and therefore avoided the economic damage; and secondly, they have pointed out that while Finland has lifted restrictions for all incoming vaccinated/recovered travelers, Italy has done so only for incoming travelers from within the EU/EEA. Instead, the organizations have urged the governments to extend this to all incoming travelers.
With the new regime coming into force for intra-EU/EEA travel, ACI Europe and IATA urge those countries which continue to deviate from the common EU framework to rapidly align with it. Specifically, the governments of Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Malta were advised to address this issue as a matter of urgency and abandon existing restrictions.
Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe, said, “The new regime for intra-EU/EEA travel is right to focus on a ‘person-based approach’ and to recognize that both vaccinated and recovered travelers should not be subjected to any restriction. But having common EU regimes has so far not prevented states from going their own way. This must stop. We now have further proof – travel restrictions do have a significant effect – but it’s not on public health, it’s on economic stability and livelihoods. In short: they are causing more harm than good.”
Conrad Clifford, IATA deputy director general, said, “The research is clear that the inevitable delay in identifying new variants means that transmission already occurs by the time travel restrictions are imposed. It’s the classic case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Keeping testing in place for vaccinated passengers therefore seems completely ineffective from the health point of view, but damages passenger confidence and national economies. This latest research should give governments confidence to implement the EU recommendation in full, enabling Europe to get moving again.”