Recent research has shown that pre-departure testing requirements are likely to be “ineffective at stopping or even limiting the spread of the Omicron variant”.
The report, prepared for the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council lnternational (ACI Europe) by Oxera and Edge Health, found that testing restrictions imposed by Italy and Finland in December 2021 on all incoming air travellers “made no distinguishable difference to transmission of Omicron cases in those countries”.
The research added that the impact of such restrictions, particularly the limitations to the free movement of people, instead “resulted in significant and unnecessary economic hardship” for both the travel and tourism sectors and “the whole European economy”.
The report also showed that retaining pre-departure testing requirements for vaccinated/recovered travellers “will have no impact whatsoever on the future spread of the Omicron variant” in the two countries.
According to the report, the spread of the variant would not have been stopped or significantly limited had the restrictions been imposed earlier, as “variants circulate well ahead of the time by which they are identified”.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) and Airports Council lnternational (ACI Europe) are therefore urging European governments to lift all travel restrictions for fully vaccinated/recovered individuals with a valid Covid certificate.
“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.”
While Finland is now lifting its pre-departure testing requirements, IATA says that “lessons must be learned to avoid repeated economic damage with no attendant public health benefit”, and that Italy should extend its easing of restrictions to all incoming travellers (not just those within the EU/EEA).
Note that the EU has introduced a nine-month (270 day) time limit on the validity of vaccine certificates.
Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe, commented:
“The new regime for intra-EU/EEA travel is right to focus on a ‘person-based approach’ and to recognise that both vaccinated and recovered travellers 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, deputy director general of IATA, added:
“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.”