On February 1 (Tuesday), Zane Kerby, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), wrote to Jeffrey Zients, COVID-19 Recovery Team Coordinator at The White House to request modifications to certain protocols affecting air passengers entering the USA.
On behalf of its 17,000 members, the ASTA President wrote “to respectfully request modifications to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) current order requiring proof of a negative coronavirus (COVID-19) test or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 for all air passengers, including U.S. citizens, arriving from a foreign country…”
He said ASTA understands the rationale behind the inbound testing order, but “it continues to present a number of practical challenges to our members and their clients.”
He identified the challenges as ranging “from uncertainty as to the availability of timely testing in-destination to avoid disruption to their return trip to the financial and psychological burdens associated with being prevented from returning home due to a positive (or false positive) test result, to a general chilling effect on international travel bookings.”
Kirby also noted that “The recent shortening of the testing window from 72 to 24 hours has only exacerbated these challenges.”
As far as ASTA sees it, “the inbound testing order remains the single biggest barrier to the full recovery of the international travel system on which so many of our members, and their clients, rely for their livelihoods.”
Consequently, according to the ASTA President, “As we enter the third year of the pandemic and reflect on how far the science related to COVID-19 mitigation has advanced since the order was first put in place in January 2021, we respectfully request that fully vaccinated U.S. citizens be exempted from the order.”
According to the CDC, “the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19…is for individuals to get vaccinated…vaccinated individuals are 5 times less likely to be infected and 10 times less likely to experience hospitalization or death due to COVID-19 than unvaccinated individuals.
“Exempting the more than 200 million Americans who are fully vaccinated from the order would reflect the scientific consensus that widespread vaccinations are the single most important element of the fight against COVID-19 while allowing the travel industry’s recovery to begin in earnest.
“It would also incentivize those who aren’t vaccinated to consider becoming so, restoring an incentive that existed for a mere 28 days between the effective dates of the Administration’s October 25 and December 2 updates to the order.”
Moreover, ASTA added, “a growing number of countries have recently moved in the direction of removing the pre-departure test requirement for the fully vaccinated, including the United Kingdom (U.K.), Ireland, Sweden and others, and the European Union now recommends its member states not require vaccinated residents to undergo pre-departure tests.”
The ASTA President noted that “In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that while stricter travel restrictions were put in place in late November when the Omicron variant was first identified, ‘Now, Omicron is so prevalent, these measures are having limited impact on the growth in cases, while continuing to pose significant costs on our travel industry,’ a sentiment we agree with wholeheartedly.”
“To be clear,” Kirby pointed out, “ASTA does not, as a general matter, believe that vaccination should be a prerequisite to international travel.
“That said,” he continued, “we do believe a balance needs to be struck in terms of protecting public health without crippling the free flow of commerce and individuals across international borders.”
“Exempting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens from the order,” the ASTA president told the White House, “is a way to appropriately strike that balance consistent with the Administration’s stated desire for ‘an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States.’”
I’ve quoted all this to make the point that ASTA isn’t telling the CDC (like some stakeholders do here) it’s wrong to recommend protocols it considers in the best interests of protecting the nation’s health, but simply showing The White House how the CDC’s recommendations and policies affect its members’ investments — and can be inconsistent with meeting stated Biden Administration policy objectives.
The Saint Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association (SLHTA) has historically undertaken this type of positive stakeholder activism — from the establishment (more than a decade before COVID) of the ‘Dollar-a-Night’ voluntary contribution by visitors towards an Emergency Fund for hotel staff, to its Executive Director being appointed an Independent Senator in the Upper House of the Saint Lucia parliament to represent the interests of not just the tourism and travel industry, but The Private Sector.
Given Tourism’s contribution to the national economy before and after COVID, it’s a humongous responsibility the SLHTA has, fortunately, repeatedly shown its ability to understand and handle.
It will therefore be counted on and expected to deliver even-better during what’s left of the constantly-changing invisible COVID-19 virus and its endless spawning of cloned variants that have, in the past 20 months, turned the whole-wide-world upside-down and all-around — and everyone’s dreams into nightmares.
Of course, with every slight positive change in test results stakeholders in most developing nations tend to over-react by adopting adjustments undertaken in the world’s richest nations, only to readjust or reverse when such trials fail.
Instead, we need to always heed best scientific advice.
The World Health Organization (WHO) only this past Thursday (February 3) warned it’ll be a grave miscalculation to lift restrictions prematurely amid the ongoing global Omicron surge.
One can only hope the local stakeholders pressing for quick return to ‘as-normal-as-possible’ by relaxation of protocols (like Carnival-in-a-Bubble, Back-to-Class learning and other types of hurried adoptions of protocol-trials borrowed from abroad) will take heed and opt to steer a steady course through the 5th COVID wave, instead of navigating into uncharted waters simply because it’s the ‘in-thing’ to do.