Foreign airlines, yesterday, kicked against gradual return of travel protocols following the resurgence of COVID-19 infections in some parts of the world, especially China.
The airlines, under the aegis of International Air Transport Association (IATA), said the reintroduction of testing and other measures on travellers had proven to be both ineffective and unscientific a barrier against the devastating virus.
Barely three weeks after Nigerian Government abolished facemask for air travellers in Nigeria and also cancelled COVID-19 PCR test irrespective of vaccination status, governments globally have started reinstating or considering restrictions on travellers from China, as Coronavirus cases in the country surge following its relaxation of “zero-COVID” rules.
Countries like the United States, United Kingdom, France, Australia, Japan, India, Canada, Italy, among others, have cited a lack of information from China on variants and are concerned about its wave of infections.
The World Health Organisation has called the precautionary measures “understandable” in light of the lack of information and urged Beijing to share more data on genetic sequencing, as well as figures on hospitalisations, deaths and vaccinations.
Beginning from today, January 5, the United States will impose mandatory COVID-19 tests on travellers from China. All air passengers aged two and older will require a negative result from a test no more than two days before departure from China, Hong Kong or Macau.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention also said U.S. citizens should also reconsider travel to China, Hong Kong and Macau. The UK will also require a pre-departure negative COVID-19 test from passengers from China as of January 5, the Department of Health said on Friday.
Besides China criticising the measures as “discriminatory”, IATA has also called for a rethink.
IATA Director-General, Willie Walsh, said despite the virus “already circulating widely within borders”, it is “extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years.”
Walsh reiterated that research undertaken around the arrival of the Omicron variant concluded that putting barriers in the way of travel made no difference to the peak spread of infections.
“At most, restrictions delayed that peak by a few days. If a new variant emerges in any part of the world, the same situation would be expected. That’s why governments should listen to the advice of experts, including the WHO, that advise against travel restrictions.
“We (airlines) have the tools to manage COVID-19 without resorting to ineffective measures that cut off international connectivity, damage economies and destroy jobs. Governments must base their decisions on ‘science facts’ rather than ‘science politics’,” Walsh said.
Earlier ‘knee-jerk’ travel restrictions and safety protocols did cost global aviation billions of losses, which major airlines are still battling.
Since January 1, France is also carrying out random PCR COVID tests upon arrival on some travellers coming from China, a government official told reporters. The French government has also urged all 26 other European Union member states to test Chinese travellers for COVID.
Those travelling from China to Australia will need to submit a negative COVID-19 test from January 5, Australian Health Minister Mark Butler said on Sunday. Butler cited Beijing’s “lack of comprehensive information” about COVID-19 cases as the reasoning behind the travel requirement.
India has also mandated a COVID-19 negative report for travellers arriving from China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Passengers from those countries will be quarantined if they show symptoms or test positive.
Japan requires a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival for travellers from mainland China. Those who test positive will be required to quarantine for seven days. The new border measures for China went into effect at midnight on December 30. The government will also limit requests from airlines to increase flights to China.