Iata urges governments to ‘follow lead’ of UK on easing restrictions

Iata director general Willie Walsh hailed the easing of travel restrictions announced by the UK on Monday and by France and Switzerland last week and urged other governments to “follow their important lead”.

But Walsh hit out at the UK government following transport secretary Grant Shapps’ confirmation that all tests would not be scrapped for vaccinated arrivals until February 11.

He said: “It’s disappointing the UK government is going to withdraw these measures on February 11 when it could withdraw them now.”

Walsh was speaking as Iata reported air passenger demand continued to recover last month despite a setback due to restrictions aimed at the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Global air traffic in December was 45% down on the same month in 2019, an improvement of two percentage points on November. Total airline capacity in December was 62% of the 2019 level.

Iata concluded: “Omicron travel restrictions slowed the recovery in international demand by about two weeks in December.”

It noted: “International demand has been recovering at a pace of about four percentage points per month compared to 2019.”

International passenger demand across the whole of 2021 was down 76% on 2019 and capacity down 65%. Domestic demand was much stronger at just 28% down on 2019, with capacity only 19% lower.

Walsh noted domestic traffic represented just over 62% of global traffic in the year, “a reversal of 2019 when domestic traffic was 36% of the total”.

He said: “Overall demand strengthened in 2021 [and] that trend continued into December despite travel restrictions in the face of Omicron. That says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and the desire to travel.

“The challenge for 2022 is to reinforce that passenger confidence by normalising travel.”

Walsh noted Europe saw “a positive end to the year” and said: “There is momentum in the right direction. International markets were recovering towards the end of 2021 with the exception of Asia Pacific, which remains 93% down due to travel restrictions.

“France and Switzerland announced significant easing of measures last week, and [on Monday] the UK removed all testing requirements for vaccinated travellers. We hope others will follow their important lead, particularly in Asia.”

But he insisted: “As Covid-19 evolves from the pandemic to endemic stage, it is past time for governments to evolve their responses away from travel restrictions that have been shown to be ineffective in preventing the spread of the disease.”

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