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WHO recommends lifting of international Covid travel bans

The World Health Organisation said international bans ‘do not provide added value’ and are ‘ineffective’, even as strict rules remain in place for travel to and from France

A man shows his vaccine pass to a staff member at an airport

The WHO has said that international travel bans are ineffective in stopping the spread of variants such as Omicron Pic: Rido / Shutterstock

The World Health Organisation has recommended that travel bans and vaccination passes no longer be in place for international travel, as “they are not effective in stopping the international spread” of Covid.

The WHO’s International Health Regulations Emergency Committee issued the recommendations this week, despite many European nations – including France – continuing to apply a series of restrictions and regulations on international travel.

Rules for non-vaccinated people are still much stricter than those for the vaccinated, for example, for travel between the UK and France.

Read more: Recap: What Covid travel rules are in place between the UK and France

The WHO committee is presided by French surgeon and Paris hospitals medical advisor, Professor Didier Houssin.

It stated: “[We are concerned by] blanket travel bans, which are not effective in suppressing international spread (as clearly demonstrated by the Omicron experience), and may discourage transparent and rapid reporting of emerging VOC [variants of concern].”

Among its list of recommendations, it advised: “[Nations should] lift or ease international traffic bans as they do not provide added value and continue to contribute to the economic and social stress…

“The failure of travel restrictions introduced after the detection and reporting of Omicron variant to limit international spread of Omicron demonstrates the ineffectiveness of such measures over time."

 

‘Risk-based approach’

It said that nation states should “not require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for international travel as the only pathway or condition permitting international travel, given limited global access and inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines”.

Currently, countries including Australia and New Zealand are closed to tourists, while the US and Finland are among the countries closed to non-vaccinated visitors.

Instead, it called for harmonious “national and global response efforts …including in relation to international travel”, and “a risk-based approach to the facilitation of international travel by lifting or modifying measures, such as testing and/or quarantine requirements, when appropriate”.

Rather than relying purely on vaccination status, it said that “travel measures (e.g. masking, testing, isolation/quarantine, and vaccination) should be based on risk assessments and avoid placing the financial burden on international travellers”.

Vaccination calls

The WHO statement also advised that countries work “to have at least 70% of all countries’ populations vaccinated by the start of July 2022 and integrate Covid-19 vaccination into routine health services…

“Vaccination programmes should continue to prioritize vulnerable populations, including health workers, older people, people with underlying conditions, immunocompromised individuals with insufficient access to treatment, migrants, refugees, people living in fragile settings, sea farers, and air crews”.

It comes as countries including the UK and France have relaxed travel restrictions in recent weeks, particularly for vaccinated passengers.

Fully vaccinated people can travel from the UK to France without needing an essential reason, and will not have to quarantine when they arrive. However, unvaccinated people can only enter France from the UK if they have an essential reason (motif impérieux).

There are still other conditions for travel for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated. 

Related articles

Why is France easing Covid restrictions when cases are at record high?
France to begin lifting Covid restrictions in February: The key points

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