ASTA Condemns Omicron-Related Travel Bans

Earlier this week, the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) denounced the series of government restrictions on travel related to the COVID-19 Omicron variant. The society said the new round of bans is inflicting additional economic damage on the already-crippled travel industry.

“Country-specific travel bans are too blunt an instrument and often create unintended but substantial economic and societal damage,” Zane Kerby, president and CEO of ASTA, said in a statement. “This swing back to country-specific bans, coming just weeks after the U.S. reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers, is deeply frustrating and comes just as the industry’s recovery was gaining steam.

“In the words of the World Health Organization’s Africa director, ‘Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.’ Chief among those affected are travel advisors who are disproportionally impacted when travel bans are implemented, given their businesses’ reliance on international travel.”

Many countries, including the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, along with the European Union have closed their borders to travelers only from select southern African nations. The South Africa foreign ministry criticized the travel bans, saying, “excellent science should be applauded and not punished.” Despite first being detected in South Africa, the Omicron variant has since been found in countries in Europe, Asia—and even the United States, according to CNN. The individual, in California, who tested positive for the Omicron variant is self-isolating and all close contacts have tested negative for COVID-19 so far, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Kerby continued: “In the U.S., a robust system of masking, testing and vaccination requirements—painstakingly crafted over the past few months—obviates the need for country-specific bans every time a new COVID variant emerges, which is inevitable. ASTA, therefore, urges the Biden Administration and governments across the world to lift these bans as soon as possible.

“Further, as we have said time and again, when government action, taken in the interest of protecting public health, has a disproportionally negative impact on a specific industry, as is the case here, logic dictates that the government provide targeted relief to the businesses most severely affected. Thus far, that has not happened. We call on Congress to recognize that for many businesses the pandemic is not over and, at minimum, pass the SAVE Act (H.R. 2120) to include travel agencies in the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program or equivalent relief and restore the Employee Retention Tax Credit for the fourth quarter of 2021.”

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