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Can travel curbs be eased?

Vaccination offers the single best protection against Covid-19. Therefore, states should ensure that vaccines are available to all as quickly as possible. Also, vaccinated travellers should not face any additional barriers

As international travel continues to be restricted, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is urging countries to work towards the gradual relaxation and removal of the Covid-19 health protocols.

While outbound and inbound travel has relatively increased in the Sultanate of Oman since October this year, the sudden emergence of Omicron and lack of daily flights to most international destinations are forcing people to rethink every travel decision they make.

The Observer has been getting queries about whether flights will be closed or quarantine-type restrictions introduced as the number of Covid-19 cases has seen a surge in recent weeks.

“Measures should remain in place only for as long as they are needed. It is also important that the removal of measures is carried out in a managed and coordinated manner given the global nature of the air transport industry and the need for international consistency, not least to reinforce consumer confidence and facilitate compliance with rules.” the IATA said.

Replying to a query from the Observer during a virtual press conference, Willie Walsh, IATA chairman, said, “WHO is saying is that blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread. The best thing governments can do here is to look and assess the risk based on the data and make decisions based on that.”

As our understanding of the SARS-COV2 virus and its transmission dynamics has evolved, it has become clear that some measures are not effective or that their benefit is small compared to the cost and disruption that they cause.

Temperature screening is an example of a measure that remains widespread despite considerable evidence that its effectiveness in detecting positive cases is very low.

Similarly, high-frequency deep cleaning and disinfection of aircraft are not justified given that the evidence indicates very clearly that surface spread is not a major driver of transmission and given the considerable cost and time that such protocols involve.

Contactless passenger processing at airport touchpoints enables physical interaction between people to be minimised and limits the exchange of documents, helping to protect passengers, as well as airline, airport, security, and government employees from cross-contamination. In addition, the passenger is less likely to be required to queue

The emergence of new variants in late 2020 and early 2021 changed the dynamics of transmission of the virus. The Delta variant has gradually become dominant around the world, and its increased transmissibility has led to almost all countries.

Vaccination offers the single best protection against Covid-19. Therefore, states should ensure that vaccines are available to all as quickly as possible, facilitating vaccine supply for low-income countries.

Vaccinated travellers should not face any additional barriers. For those without access to vaccines, including minors, testing should enable quarantine free international travel. Antigen tests are the key to cost-effective and convenient testing regimes, and governments should pay for testing so it does not become an economic barrier to travel.

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