The International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s Director General said he was “extremely disappointed” by the countries that introduced mandatory COVID-19 testing and other measures for travelers from China, despite the virus already being widely present within their own borders.
“It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years,” IATA Director General Willie Walsh said in a statement.
He urged governments to listen to the advice of experts, including the World Health Organization (WHO), and base their decisions on “science facts” rather than “science politics.”
“Research undertaken around the arrival of the omicron variant concluded that putting barriers in the way of travel made no difference to the peak spread of infections,” said Walsh.
“At most, restrictions delayed that peak by a few days. If a new variant emerges in any part of the world, the same situation would be expected.”
Walsh’s comments came after a swathe of countries decided to implement new COVID-19 measures for travelers coming from China over the past week.
In the European Union, France, Italy, and Spain were the first to enact such measures in response to rising cases. Other countries, including Australia, Canada, India, Israel, Malaysia, Morocco, Qatar, South Korea, Taiwan, and the US, have also introduced additional measures for arrivals from China.
“We have the tools to manage COVID-19 without resorting to ineffective measures that cut off international connectivity, damage economies and destroy jobs,” Walsh added.
On Tuesday, the EU agreed on a coordinated approach to the changing COVID-19 situation, though specific details have yet to be announced. These measures may include testing and vaccination requirements, monitoring and surveillance for new variants, and health and hygiene measures for air passengers.
China recently lifted its stringent anti-virus controls, leading to a surge of COVID-19 cases in its population of 1.4 billion, many of whom have little natural immunity to the virus.
Funeral homes have reported an increase in demand, and international health experts predict at least one million deaths in China this year.
While the official number of COVID-19 deaths in China has been low, with a reported 5,258 as of January 3, it is widely believed that the actual death toll is much higher.
Health data firm Airfinity estimates that approximately 9,000 people in China are dying from COVID-19 each day.
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