Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
The International Air Transport Association's (IATA's) Director General Willie Walsh is disappointed in countries for introducing COVID-19 testing and other measures for travellers from China “even though the virus is already circulating widely within their borders.”
“It is extremely disappointing to see this knee-jerk reinstatement of measures that have proven ineffective over the last three years,” Walsh said in a statement on Jan. 4.
“Research undertaken around the arrival of the Omicron variant concluded that putting barriers in the way of travel made no difference to the peak spread of infections. At most, restrictions delayed that peak by a few days. If a new variant emerges in any part of the world, the same situation would be expected.”
READ MORE: Canada to require COVID-19 testing for flights from China starting Jan. 5
The messaging aligns with studies that have been conducted in Canada that looked at the effectiveness of COVID-related travel restrictions.
According to a study released by Canadian doctors released last September, there is "no convincing evidence" that pre-departure (and on-arrival testing) have a significant impact on local transmission in Canadian communities
Walsh believes governments “should listen to the advice of experts, including the WHO, that advise against travel restrictions.”
“We have the tools to manage COVID-19 without resorting to ineffective measures that cut off international connectivity, damage economies and destroy jobs. Governments must base their decisions on ‘science facts’ rather than ‘science politics,’” he said.
Walsh also urged the Chinese government to remove the need for pre-departure COVID-19 testing for those traveling to China.
Pre-departure testing for Canada
Canada announced new pre-departure testing rules for travellers from China last week.
Starting Thursday (Jan. 5), Ottawa will require people flying from China, Hong Kong and Macao to test negative for COVID-19 before leaving for Canada.
The rule will apply to air travellers age two and older. The test can be either a negative molecular (PCR) test, or a negative antigen test administered by a telehealth service or an accredited lab or testing provider.
Passengers who have tested positive more than 10 days before their departure flight, but no more than 90 days, can provide the airline with documentation of their prior positive, in place of a negative test result.
The measure, which will apply regardless of vaccination status, will be in place for 30 days and will be reassessed as more data and evidence becomes available, the release says.
Speaking with the Canadian Press on Jan. 1, Kerry Bowman, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine, called Canada's testing requirement for China "absolutely a political move, and not based on science at this point."
"This isn't the early days of the pandemic," Bowman told CP. "So, I do think it's largely political."
Bowman, who teaches bioethics and global health, said "point of entry screening is not very effective at all."
"Often people can test positive days and weeks later," Bowman said.
Countries in Europe have also tightened COVID rules for flights from China. Last week, officials in France, Spain and England said tougher measures for travellers arriving from China would be implemented.
Australian health authorities are also implementing pre-departure testing measures for China.
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