Brussels/Geneva and the International Air Transport Association urged European Governments to lift all travel restrictions for fully vaccinated/recovered individuals holding a valid Covid Certificate – as advised by the new regime for travel within the EU which came into force yesterday.
This new regime, set out by an EU Council Recommendation adopted on January 25, is based on the health status of travellers, rather than the epidemiological situation of their country or area of origin.
Independent research conducted in Finland and Italy provides insight into developing a Europe-wide policy for removing restrictions. The research made public today confirms 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.
New 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 travellers made no distinguishable difference to transmission of Omicron 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.
Crucially, the report also shows that:
·Maintaining pre-departure testing requirements for vaccinated/recovered travellers further will have no impact whatsoever on the future spread of the Omicron variant in Italy and Finland.
·Imposing these restrictions earlier – i.e. on the very 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 inherent 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 ECDC generally consider travel restrictions to be ineffective.
The fact that both countries are now lifting their pre-departure testing requirements is very welcome. However, concerns remain that:
·Both countries could have lifted them much earlier or altogether avoided imposing them in the first place – lessons must be learned to avoid repeated economic damage with no attendant public health benefit.
·While Finland has lifted restrictions for all incoming vaccinated/recovered travellers, Italy has done so only for incoming travellers from within the EU/EEA. This now needs to extend to all incoming travellers, as there is no health safety benefit in delaying this step any longer.