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Iata chief reiterates criticism of Omicron ‘over-reaction’

Iata director general Willie Walsh has reiterated criticism of the “over-reaction” of governments to the Omicron variant and said he hoped “experience would be the best teacher” for the future.

Walsh was speaking as latest data from the association highlighted the ongoing recovery of international air travel before tighter restrictions were introduced in December.

Iata said total demand for air travel in November was down 47% compared to the same month in 2019, an improvement on the 48.9% contraction seen in October.

This was driven by improved demand for international travel, down 60.5% against 2019 compared to a 64.8% decline in October, which offset a slowdown in domestic travel driven by tighter restrictions within China.

European carriers’ November international traffic was 43.7% behind November 2019, a significant improvement on the 49.4%% decrease in October.

Walsh said: “The recovery in air traffic continued in November. Unfortunately, governments over-reacted to the emergence of the Omicron variant at the close of the month and resorted to the tried-and-failed methods of border closures, excessive testing of travellers and quarantine to slow the spread.

“Not surprisingly, international ticket sales made in December and early January fell sharply compared to 2019, suggesting a more difficult first quarter than had been expected.”

Walsh added: “If the experience of the last 22 months has shown anything, it is that there is little to no correlation between the introduction of travel restrictions and preventing transmission of the virus across borders. And these measures place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.

“If experience is the best teacher, let us hope that governments pay more attention as we begin the New Year.”

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