Following the waning of Omicron infections across Europe, which influenced a number of countries to finally loosen strict travel rules, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has joined the Airports Council International (ACI) in further pressuring the continent to lift all remaining restrictions ahead of the busy summer season.
Although some European nations, such as Montenegro and Romania have already removed all entry requirements, requiring that passengers simply observe visa requirements as it had been pre-pandemic, others like Italy and Spain still expect travelers to produce some kind of Covid documentation when crossing the border.
Industry Claims It’s Time To Go Back To Normal
While the recent easing of travel restrictions will surely be welcomed by industry officials, as well as the World Health Organization, Europe as a whole is yet to fully lower its guard when it comes to border management, with its classic, pandemic-era patchwork of measures still presenting a challenge to American visitors.
In countries like Romania, presenting a valid Covid Pass – either a vaccination certificate or negative PCR/rapid antigen test – is no longer a requirement. Additionally, face coverings have ceased being mandatory, as did disclosing one’s vaccination status in order to enter venues. In Italy, however, a ‘Green Pass’ is still required for most activities.
For that reason, ACI Europe and IATA have both urged European countries to lift all remaining Covid restrictions affecting travel inside the European Union and the Schengen Area, which currently make it more challenging for American and Canadian citizens, especially those unvaccinated, to fulfill cross-border itineraries.
Among the measures proposed, ACI and IATA list the following as being of utmost importance:
- Scrapping all testing requirements
- The end of vaccination status discrimination (allowing non-immunized individuals to travel inside Europe freely)
- Discontinuation of Passenger Locator Forms (PLFs)
- Lifting of face covering requirements for travel between European countries where its usage is no longer mandatory, especially indoors
In justifying the contents in the letter addressed to European authorities, these entities cite that the Omicron variant is “pervasive throughout all of Europe“, which has led the hospitalization and death rates to drop “dramatically”. This trend has been particularly noted among those vaccinated, who had faced new restrictions after Omicron.
In regards to PLF forms, which are still in place in certain European countries even when they have relaxed other border measures, IATA calls them “redundant“. As stated in their press release, maintaining PLF forms is unjustified when contact tracing efforts across Europe is currently being “stood down”.
European Border Management In The Face Of New Variants
When it comes to new variants that may potentially arise, especially at a time when Europe is again axing curbs and the focus of the European Commission is on the war in Ukraine, IATA and ACI Europe have evidence that further travel restrictions will not have a significant impact on halting a viral rebound.
According to recent research published by OXERA/Edge Health, imposing strict travel curbs immediately after a new variant is identified only delays the peak of infections by a maximum of four days. This same data supported the reopening of the United Kingdom recently, with vaccinated travelers no longer subject to any testing.
As mentioned in the press release, when restrictions are imposed a week following identification of a new variant, the peak in infections per 100,000 is slowed by two days maximum. For IATA and its partners, “these negligible health benefits are therefore outweighed by the significant social and economic damage caused by the negative impact on air travel“.
In the words of Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Europe, it is time to focus Covid efforts on surveillance while removing all intra-EU restrictions. Olivier Jankovec, Director General of ACI Europe, has also asserted that “travel restrictions have proven to be a blunt instrument with little to no impact on virus transmission”.
IATA Hopes For A Restriction-Free Summer In Europe
With the recent data in mind, both institutions are jointly requesting Ministers of Transport and Health across EU and Schengen Member States to remove not some, but all health-related border restrictions within the European space before summer. This includes testing, contact tracing, and vaccine passes.
On top of that, they also call for European countries to accept travelers from abroad who have been vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine, as opposed to an EMA-approved shot only. Travelers previously immunized with a non-EMA listed vaccine have been notoriously barred from entering specific nations in Europe throughout the crisis.
The European Union – and its Schengen-associated members – are yet to respond to IATA’s demands. Currently, Europe is keen on strengthening its external borders even after Covid has been beaten, especially following Russian aggression in Ukraine. From 2023, Americans and all visa-exempt nationals will even require travel authorization to visit the continent.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories