General travel restrictions ineffective and counterproductive

Would general travel restrictions really be ineffective in combating the spread of new variants of the virus? For the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) there is no doubt. “To stem the spread of new variants of the virus, blanket travel restrictions are simply counterproductive,” UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said recently. “In reality, by blocking the lifeblood of tourism, these restrictions are doing more harm than good, especially in destinations that depend on international tourism as a driver of jobs, economic well-being and lasting change” , estimated the boss of this specialized agency of the United Nations. To be convinced of this, she recalls that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently launched an appeal for the lifting or relaxation of travel restrictions. In this appeal, WHO reiterates that travel restrictions do not prevent the international spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. In fact, at its tenth meeting held on January 19 in Geneva, the WHO International Health Regulations Emergency Committee expressed concern that the various measures taken around the world to deal with the appearance of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 have adverse economic and social effects. The WHO also believes that these measures “also risk discouraging rapid and transparent reporting of emerging variants of concern”, as reported by the UNWTO in a press release. The same source adds: “The Committee also noted that measures aimed at international travellers, such as screening, isolation and quarantine, and vaccinations, should be based on a risk assessment and avoid imposing the financial burden on international travelers in accordance with Article 40 of the International Health Regulations”. The organization intended to promote and develop tourism on a global scale has naturally welcomed all the new guidance from the WHO noting the ineffectiveness of general restrictions on travel. Seizing this opportunity, the specialized agency of the United Nations also relayed “its recommendations advocating not to make vaccination status the only condition which allows the return of tourists, especially when we see how unequal the vaccination rates remain”, can we read on its official website. However, the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects Report for the year 2022 observes that the recovery from the impacts of the pandemic is fragile and unequal in both developed and developing countries. The document, to which UNWTO provided the official travel data, further highlights the significant setback in progress that had been made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this report, which highlights the importance of the tourism sector for the world economy and in particular for developing economies, in particular small island developing States (SIDS), it is notably stated that “tourism is called upon to play a major role in the recovery of national economies and world trade”. In any case, Zurab Pololikashvili believes that “it is essential to restart tourism to initiate recovery and put us back on the path to achieving the SDGs while meeting climate imperatives”. Alain Bouithy