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IATA calls on governments to remove all travel restrictions for fully vaccinated

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International travelers wearing face masks are seen at the arrival hall of Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, on Jan. 17, 2022. Canada reported 23,586 new COVID-19 cases Monday evening, raising its national total to 2,801,446 with 30,946 deaths, local media CTV reported. (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images)
IATA urged governments to remove all travel barriers for fully vaccinated travellers. (Photo by Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images)

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on governments around the world to remove all travel barriers for fully vaccinated travellers, calling current travel restrictions "a mess."

The airline group, which represents 290 airlines including Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat, released a statement urging governments to accelerate relaxation of travel restrictions "as COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage."

"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," IATA's director general Willie Walsh said in a statement released Tuesday.

"The billions spent testing travellers would be far more effective if allocated to vaccine distribution or strengthening health care systems."

There seem to be more unique solutions to managing travel and COVID-19 than there are countries to travel to.Willie Walsh, director general, IATA

IATA said governments should remove all travel barriers – including mandatory quarantine and testing rules – for fully vaccinated travellers, as well allow unvaccinated travellers to bypass quarantine if they provide a negative pre-departure antigen test result. The organization argued the easing of travel restrictions should be accelerated "in recognition that travellers pose no greater risk for COVID-19 spread than already exists in the general population."

"The current situation of travel restrictions is a mess," Walsh said.

"There is one problem—COVID-19. But there seem to be more unique solutions to managing travel and COVID-19 than there are countries to travel to."

Travel restrictions related to the outbreak of the Omicron variant remain in place in many regions around the world, including in Canada.

In December, the government issued an advisory urging Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country, regardless of vaccination status. That advisory remains in place.

Canadian airlines have cancelled more than 1,500 flights in 2022 as of Jan. 19, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. WestJet announced last week that it would slash 20 per cent of its scheduled February flights as it grapples with a shortage of staff and what the company says is "the prolonged impact of government barriers." WestJet also joined Air Canada and Toronto's Pearson Airport and released a letter urging the federal and Ontario government to remove mandatory arrival testing and shift testing resources from airports to the community.

Currently, travellers coming to Canada must provide a pre-arrival negative PCR test. Passengers coming from anywhere outside of the U.S. will also have to be tested upon arrival, regardless of whether they are vaccinated, and then quarantine until they receive a negative test result.

Loosening limits to travel

But some countries are moving to ease restrictions. The British government announced Monday that it will scrap COVID-19 testing requirements for vaccinated travellers coming to England, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson inviting international tourists to come visit the United Kingdom.

"Now is a fantastic time to book a trip and enjoy the best the U.K. has to offer," Johnson said in a statement.

Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.

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