The UK may have moved to simplify its entry requirements, but International Air Transport Association (IATA) boss Willie Walsh wants them made even simpler.
Walsh accused the UK government, which last week slashed its list of red countries and eased entry restrictions, of failing to capitalize on early vaccination success by continuing to restrict travel and persisting with expensive COVID tests.
Walsh, a strident critic of the high expense of COVID testing regimes in many countries, said the UK government should embrace a simpler testing regime while ensuring competitive airport costs.
“In terms of day-to-day life, the UK is far more pragmatic in managing COVID-19 than many other states,’’ Walsh said. “But its approach to travel continues to focus on restrictions which cannot be justified based on risk.
“Over the period from February to August, the PCR test positivity rate of arriving passengers to the UK was 1 percent. And the positivity rate from testing the general population was 7 percent. So we can confidently say that travel is not increasing the UK’s COVID-19 risk.”
Although the UK has proposed an end to PCR testing for vaccinated travelers, Walsh believes problems remain because it is relying on “a closed shop” of private testing providers to administer post-arrival antigen tests.
He said the effectiveness of the testing had been described by the UK’s Competition and marketing Authority as a lottery and prices remained high compared to high-street options in other parts of the world.
COVID-19 document checks were also a barrier to travel and Walsh urged the UK to lead with automated digital solutions to take the burden off airlines.
“Manual paper checks by airlines are unsustainable as volumes come back,” he said. “We need to automate the process…airlines are not your border guards.”
The IATA boss also took a swipe at Heathrow Airport, saying leaked papers had revealed the airport’s owners were seeking a 90 percent increase in charges that would add 100 pounds to the cost of an average family holiday.
Walsh told IATA’s annual meeting in Boston last week that global travel restrictions “a complex and confusing web of rules with very little consistency”.
A recent IATA survey of the top 50 travel markets for global traffic found 38 had some form of COVID restrictions on who could enter and only seven had no entry restrictions or quarantine requirements upon arrival.
The survey found only six of the 38 states with restrictions exempted minors when they traveled with vaccinated adults, nine did not fully recognize the World Health Organization list of vaccines and there were at least five different definitions for the point after inoculation at which vaccines were considered effective.
Of 46 states requiring pre-departure testing, the survey found only 24 accepted PCR testing, 16 recognized antigen testing and 18 exempted vaccinated travelers from testing.