As COVID19 is Downgraded, IATA Says “Never Forget”

Kevin Rozario


May 10, 2023

mod covid 19 fusion medical animation unsplash

COVID19 no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

© Fusion Medical Animation/Unsplash

The threat from COVID19 has become so low that the disease has been given non-emergency status by the World Health Organization (WHO), a move welcomed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), along with a warning.

In an early May meeting, the WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, officially stated that COVID19 is “now an established and ongoing health issue which no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC).”

IATA responded positively but said that lessons needed to be learnt. The airline association’s Deputy Director-General, Conrad Clifford, commented: “It is good news that the WHO has formally recognized that COVID no longer represents a public health emergency. But it is important that we never forget what a terrible disaster the pandemic has been.”

While noting the tragedy of so many lives lost—close to 7 million globally—he added: “From a travel perspective, we know that the lack of scientific basis, consistency or clear communication of the restrictions brought in by governments meant that many of them had little impact on the spread of the virus, but exacerbated the misery caused to millions of people who could no longer visit their families or pursue their business. And for aviation, that meant millions of jobs at risk and global air connectivity set back by years.”

Clifford said that it was important that governments “heed the lessons” from COVID and be alert to “what worked, and what didn’t work.” He added: “Decisions taken during the next global public health emergency should be consistent, grounded in science, risk-assessed, and well communicated.”

Aviation Staff Treated as Key Workers

IATA also wants governments to recognize the vital role that aviation played in ensuring the movement of vaccines, medicines, equipment, and medical professionals.

“Governments should make all efforts to maintain global air connectivity and supply chains, and to designate aviation personnel as key workers rather than being subject to harsh quarantine restrictions,” said Clifford.

“It has been an economic and social disaster on a scale and with consequences that still remain to be properly understood. That is why it is so important to learn the lessons of this pandemic to make sure that we are better prepared to manage future health emergencies with much less destruction of lives and livelihoods.”

Recent decisions, for example by the Chinese and United States governments to relax the last remaining COVID restrictions on travel, are evidence that the world is getting get back to normal in 2023.

mod IATA March 23 data

Asia-Pacific continues to rebuild quickly as the China market comes back.


A Better Outlook

IATA’s own data for March show that total traffic (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) rose 52% compared to March 2022 and that globally, traffic is now at 88% of March 2019 levels.

The picture still varies significantly for domestic and international travel. Domestic traffic in March rose 34% compared to the same month last year bringing it to 99% of March 2019 levels. Meanwhile, international traffic climbed much faster at 69% versus March 2022, led by the continuing rebound from carriers in the Asia-Pacific region. However, international RPKs have still only reached 82% of March 2019 levels, which is an indicator of the work still to do. A dampening factor could be the increase in airfares alluded to by ACI Europe’s head.

Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General, commented: “The first quarter ended on a strong note for air travel demand. Domestic markets have been near their pre-pandemic levels for months, and for international travel two key waypoints were topped.

“First, demand increased by 3.5 percentage points compared to the previous month’s growth, to reach 81.6% of pre-COVID levels. This was led by a near-tripling of demand for Asia-Pacific carriers as China’s re-opening took hold. Even more importantly, ticket sales for both domestic and international travel give every indication that strong growth will continue into the peak northern hemisphere summer travel season.”