The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that blanket travel bans, in the wake of the Omicron scare, will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.
Essential international travel –including travel for emergency and humanitarian missions, travel of essential personnel, repatriations and cargo transport of essential supplies–should continue to be prioritized at all times during the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO noted in a travel advisory.
In addition, all travellers should be reminded to remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, to get vaccinated when it is their turn and to adhere to public health and social measures at all times and regardless of vaccination status, including by using masks appropriately, respecting physical distancing, following good respiratory etiquette and avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated spaces.
Persons who are unwell, or who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present an increased risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes) should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission.
While scientific research is underway to understand how the variant behaves, WHO advised countries to continue to apply an evidence-informed and risk-based approach, in accordance with the guidelines, when implementing travel measures.
National authorities, the advisory noted, in countries of departure, transit and arrival may apply a multi-layered risk mitigation approach to potentially delay or reduce the exportation or importation of the new variant. Such measures may include the screening of passengers prior to travelling and/or upon arrival, including via the use of SARS-CoV-2 testing or the application of quarantine to international travellers.
These measures, nonetheless, need to be defined following a thorough risk assessment process informed by the local epidemiology in departure and destination countries and by the health system and public health capacities in the countries of departure, transit and arrival. All measures should be commensurate with the risk, time-limited and applied with respect to travellers’ dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms,
The advisory urged all countries to ensure that the measures are regularly reviewed and updated when new evidence becomes available on the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of Omicron or any other variant of concern (VOC).