Asia urged to open up as aviation sector looks to recovery

The director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged Asian nations to follow the rising number of nations which are removing international travel restriction.

Willie Walsh said he and the association welcomed the increasing momentum towards re-opening of borders and relaxation of travel restrictions, as COVID-19 moves into the endemic phase. However he added that IASTA’s study on the current restrictions saw a clear disconnect between the approach in Asia to that of the rest of the world

The survey of travel restrictions examined the world’s top 50 air travel markets, comprising 88% of international demand in 2019 as measured by revenue passenger kilometres, revealed the growing access available to vaccinated travellers:

It found 25 markets representing 38% of 2019 international demand are open to vaccinated travellers without quarantine measures or testing requirements, up from 18 markets (28% of 2019 international demand) in mid-February.

In all 38 markets representing 65% of 2019 international demand are open to vaccinated travellers with no quarantine requirements, up from 28 markets, representing 50% of 2019 international demand, in mid-February.

Walsh added, repeated surveys of passengers by IATA during the pandemic has shown that testing and especially quarantine are major barriers to travel.

“Travel in Asia remains heavily compromised by COVID restrictions,” stated the report. “While North American and European international traffic rebounded to -42% of their 2019 peaks last year, traffic in Asia Pacific remained at -88%. Even in this region, however, there has been some progress, with India and Malaysia among the countries recently announcing relaxation of restrictions.

“The easing of measures reflects the growing consensus that travel restrictions such as border closures and quarantine do little to control the spread of COVID-19. A recent report by OXERA and Edge Health, looking at the spread of the Omicron variant in Europe, concluded that travel restrictions may only delay the peak of a wave by a few days.”

Walsh said the aviation industry was preparing for a significant uptick in travel during Easter and beyond.

“The world is largely open for travel,” he explained. “As population immunity grows, more governments are managing COVID-19 through surveillance, as they do for other endemic viruses. That is great news for a growing number of destinations that will receive a much-needed economic boost from the upcoming Easter and Northern Summer travel seasons. Asia is the outlier. Hopefully, recent relaxations including Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Pakistan, and the Philippines are paving the way towards restoring the freedom to travel that is more broadly enjoyed in other parts of the world.”

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