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Airline industry asks for removal of all Covid-19 restrictions

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Airports Council International (ACI Europe) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Monday asked for the removal of all Covid-19 travel restrictions currently in force for trips within the EU, as this would reflect the recent relaxation of measures across the bloc.

This includes the abolition of all testing requirements, proof of vaccination, passenger locator form (PLF) for intra-EU and Schengen area travel, as well as the need to wear a mask on planes since it is no longer a pre-condition in other indoor areas.

The two organisations said that Covid-19, with specific reference to the reportedly somewhat less dangerous Omicron variant, was now prevalent throughout the continent, noting that population immunity and vaccination levels had “dramatically reduced” the risk of hospitalisation.

“Many European states have lifted domestic COVID restrictions, such as the need to provide health credentials to enter social events, or the requirement to wear masks in public spaces. Contact tracing efforts are also being stood down, rendering PLFs for international travel redundant,” the two organisations said in a statement.

“As European countries open up and remove restrictions, it is only logical to remove similar restrictions from air transport,” the statement added.

ACI Europe and IATA further bolstered their case by putting forth supporting evidence for symmetry between international travel regulations and domestic policies.

One of the supporting documents includes a recent study by economics and finance consultancy Oxera and UK-based healthcare industry analysts Edge Health, with the latter having previous experience in Covid-19 infection modelling and scenario planning.

The joint study, published on March 11, includes results that show that in the event of a new variant being identified, the immediate imposition of travel restrictions would only slow down the peak of infections by four days at most.

“Our analysis indicates that any travel restrictions imposed over the next several months will have no impact on the size of the peak, but could delay the peak of cases by a maximum of four days, regardless of the level of passenger traffic,” the study explained.

“This is the case only if restrictions are imposed pre-emptively, or could be introduced on the same day that a variant is imported and therefore likely before it is actually identified as a variant of concern (VOC),” it added.

Moreover, IATA and ACI Europe said that even with the limited impact of immediate restrictions, this is still a best-case scenario, explaining that “by the time that a new variant emerges, is identified, and restrictions are put in place, the variant is likely already circulating in communities around the world”.

The two organisations said that in a simulated test case where travel restrictions are imposed seven days after the identification of a new variant, the peak in infections per 100,000 people would only be delayed by two days at the most, while the social and economic disruption would be disproportionally higher to any health benefits.

“The time has come to focus their COVID efforts on surveillance and remove remaining intra-EU restrictions,” IATA’s regional vice president for Europe, Rafael Schvartzman, said, adding that “this will free people to travel, and support jobs returning to the European air transport and travel sectors”.

Schvartzman’s comments were echoed by ACI Europe director general, Olivier Jankovec, who said that “travel restrictions have proven to be a blunt instrument with little to no impact on virus transmission”.

“That will be a much-needed boost for the whole travel and tourism sectors which has been forced to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs during the pandemic,” Jankovec concluded.

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