China’s “zero COVID-19” policy would hamper the recovery of the civil aviation industry in the Asia-Pacific region, International Air Transport Association (IATA) director-general Willie Walsh told the Changi Aviation Summit yesterday.
“As long as the Chinese government continues to maintain their ‘zero COVID’ approach, it is hard to see the country’s borders reopening. This will hold back the region’s full recovery,” Walsh said in his keynote speech.
While Japan is also key to the industry’s recovery in the region and has taken steps to allow it, it lacks a clear plan to reopen to all visitors or tourists, he said.
Japan should “lift quarantine for all vaccinated travelers,” “remove both the on-arrival airport testing and daily arrival cap” and “take bolder steps towards reopening of the country’s borders,” he said.
Walsh identified the importance of the two countries while urging Asia-Pacific countries to further ease border measures to accelerate the region’s recovery from COVID-19.
“Asia-Pacific is playing catch-up on restarting travel after COVID-19, but there is growing momentum with governments lifting many travel restrictions. The demand for people to travel is clear. As soon as measures are relaxed, there is an immediate positive reaction from travelers,” Walsh said. “So it is critical that all stakeholders, including governments, are well-prepared for the restart. We cannot delay. Jobs are at stake and people want to travel.”
Photo courtesy of Taoyuan International Airport Corp via CNA
The Asia-Pacific region’s international passenger demand for March reached 17 percent of pre-pandemic levels, after having hovered at less than 10 percent for most of the past two years, he said, but government restrictions have prevented demand from recovering to 60 percent of pre-pandemic levels as seen in other countries.
Governments in the region should continue easing measures and bring normalcy to air travel by removing all restrictions for vaccinated travelers and lifting the mask mandate for air travel when it is no longer required in other indoor environments and public transport, he said.
Quarantine and COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated travelers should be removed in countries where there are high levels of population immunity, which is the case in most parts of Asia, Walsh said.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center, earlier this month reaffirmed that the nation’s borders could gradually reopen to international travelers in July, provided the borders are first opened to countries whose COVID-19 situations are similar to Taiwan’s and domestic medical facilities have the capacity to cope with an increase in COVID-19 cases.
In other news, Taoyuan International Airport Corp senior vice president Jerry Dan (但昭璧) yesterday told the 33th Airports Council International Asia Pacific Regional Board meeting in Singapore that the council can dispel travelers’ concerns, and boost the confidence of air passengers and carriers by making consistent suggestions to governments regarding regulatory and quarantine measures.
Overall average air passenger volume has reached only 30 percent of pre-pandemic levels, council director-general Stefano Baronci said.
Airports around the world still face many challenges, including COVID-19 passport checks, a shortage of airport workers and on-arrival COVID-19 testing, he added.
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