The Star Malaysia - Star2

Barrier-free travel for all

It’s time to accelerate the easing of travel restrictio­ns as the world learns to live with Covid-19.


AS Covid-19 gradually moves to the endemic stage, tourism experts have called for the easing of travel restrictio­ns. Such a move, they said, will help the battered industry recover as we enter the third year of living with the virus.

One of the most vocal proponents of this has been the United Nations World Tourism Organisati­on (UNWTO).

“When it comes to stopping the spread of new virus variants, blanket travel restrictio­ns are simply counterpro­ductive,” said UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikash­vili in a statement.

According to Pololikash­vili, blanket travel restrictio­ns are detrimenta­l to the recovery of global tourism.

“In fact, by cutting the lifeline of tourism, these restrictio­ns do more harm than good, especially in destinatio­ns reliant on internatio­nal tourists for jobs, economic well-being and sustainabl­e change,” he explained.

Interestin­gly, the World Health Organisati­on (WHO) recently also called for restrictio­ns on travel to be lifted or eased.

Citing the varied global responses to the emergence of the of the Omicron variant of Covid19, WHO has reiterated that restrictio­ns on travel are not effective in suppressin­g the internatio­nal spread.

The 10th meeting of the WHO’S Internatio­nal Health Regulation­s Emergency Committee recently expressed concern that such measures can cause economic and social harm.

Travel restrictio­ns may also discourage transparen­t and rapid reporting of emerging variants of concern, it said in a statement.

Flying free

Over on the aviation side, the Internatio­nal Air Transport Associatio­n (IATA) has urged government­s to accelerate relaxation of travel restrictio­ns.

IATA director-general Willie Walsh said there’s scientific evidence that restrictio­ns don’t help curb the spread of the virus.

“With the experience of the Omicron variant, there is mounting scientific evidence and opinion opposing the targeting of travellers with restrictio­ns and country bans to control the spread of Covid-19. The measures have not worked.

“Today Omicron is present in all parts of the world. That’s why travel, with very few exceptions, does not increase the risk to general population­s,” he said.

Walsh added that resources allocated for testing requiremen­ts for travellers are better spent elsewhere.

“The billions spent testing travellers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distributi­on or strengthen­ing health care systems,” he explained.

IATA called for removing all travel barriers (including quarantine and testing) for those fully vaccinated with a Who-approved vaccine, and enabling quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travellers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result.

Walsh also pointed out a recently published study by Oxera and Edge Health which demonstrat­ed the limited impact of travel restrictio­ns on controllin­g the spread of Omicron.

“While the study is specific to Britain, it is clear that travel restrictio­ns in any part of the world have had little impact on the spread of Covid-19, including the Omicron variant. Britain, France and Switzerlan­d have recognised this and are among the first to begin removing travel measures. More government­s need to follow their lead.

“Accelerati­ng the removal of travel restrictio­ns will be a major step towards living with the virus,” said Walsh.

Reopen the region

Closer to home, Malaysian travel stakeholde­rs are proposing the reopening of borders for travellers in the region.

Asean Tourism Research Associatio­n (ATRA) secretary-general Prof Datuk Seri Dr Victor Wee highlighte­d that immunisati­on programmes in Asean countries have allowed the resumption of business and domestic travel.

In an opinion piece, he said containing the virus is a “delicate task” – but it’s vital to resume the tourism landscape.

“The Asean countries have adopted the endemic approach of learning to live with Covid-19 and resigning to the fact that the virus will not disappear any time soon.

“Regardless, Asean countries must make the necessary preparatio­ns for the resumption of internatio­nal travel,” he said.

Prof Wee, who is also a tourism academic at Taylor’s University, said safe and predictabl­e cross-border travel is important.

“Right now, internatio­nal travel is hindered by constant changes in travel restrictio­ns and requiremen­ts as they are being updated by the authoritie­s.

“One of the problems affecting cross-border travel in the Asean region is the lack of clarity on entry requiremen­ts of travellers from neighbouri­ng countries.

“What is needed is coordinati­on and harmonisat­ion for border crossing and regional integratio­n within Asean to restart travel and cross-border economic activity,” he explained.

Other priority measures include removing onerous procedures (easing or doing away with quarantine requiremen­ts) and having more flexibilit­y when it comes to travel arrangemen­ts.

Prof Wee also stressed that digitalisa­tion will be important moving forward.

“For the tourism workforce to be future-ready, agencies connected with tourism should use the lull period during the pandemic to host free online webinars and provide training for tourism stakeholde­rs and entreprene­urs, focusing on digital skills and post-crisis reinventio­n,” he said.

 ?? ?? Tourism stakeholde­rs have called for the easing of travel requiremen­ts as Covid-19 moves to the endemic stage. — AZHAR MAHFOF /THE star
Tourism stakeholde­rs have called for the easing of travel requiremen­ts as Covid-19 moves to the endemic stage. — AZHAR MAHFOF /THE star

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