Independent research (click here to view) conducted in Finland and Italy, highlights the inefficiency of recent travel restrictions imposed by European countries in mitigating the risks to public health and society posed by COVID-19.
The analysis, produced by Oxera and Edge Health, reveals that pre-departure testing requirements are likely to be ineffective at stopping or even limiting the spread of the Omicron variant.
The analysis of testing restrictions imposed by Italy and Finland on December 16 and December 28, 2021 respectively on all incoming travellers, made no distinguishable difference to transmission of Omicron cases in those countries.
Conversely, the impact of these restrictions, and in particular the limitations to the free movement of people, resulted in significant and unnecessary economic hardship.
Crucially, the report also showed that:
- Maintaining pre-departure testing requirements for vaccinated/recovered travellers further will have no impact whatsoever on the future spread of the Omicron variant in Italy and Finland.
- Imposing these restrictions earlier – i.e. on the very day the Omicron variant was identified as an issue by the WHO – would not have stopped its spread nor significantly limited it in Italy and Finland.
This is because variants circulate well ahead of the time by which they are identified, which is the reason why both the WHO and ECDC generally consider travel restrictions to be ineffective.
As a result of this research, Airports Council International (ACI) Europe and Iata have urged European governments to lift all travel restrictions for fully vaccinated/recovered individuals holding a valid COVID-19 certificate – as advised by the new regime for travel within the EU, which came into force yesterday (February 1).
The new regime, adopted on January 25, is based on the health status of travellers, rather than the epidemiological situation of their country or area of origin.
“The new regime for intra-EU/EEA travel is right to focus on a ‘person-based approach’ and to recognise that both vaccinated and recovered travellers should not be subjected to any restriction.
“But having common EU regimes has so far not prevented States from going their own way. This must stop. We now have further proof – travel restrictions do have a significant effect – but it’s not on public health; it’s on economic stability and livelihoods. In short: they are causing more harm than good,” said Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe Director General.
“The research is clear that the inevitable delay in identifying new variants means that transmission already occurs by the time travel restrictions are imposed. It’s the classic case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Keeping testing in place for vaccinated passengers therefore seems completely ineffective from the health point of view, but damages passenger confidence and national economies. This latest research should give governments confidence to implement the EU recommendation in full, enabling Europe to get moving again,” said Conrad Clifford, Iata Deputy Director General.