Governments should abandon the concept of “high-risk countries” when it comes to Covid-19 and instead focus on treating “high-risk travellers” at borders, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

“Entire populations are not infected and should not all be labelled as ‘high-risk’. Individual traveller risk assessment through comprehensive testing and use of technology will avoid exporting the virus,” the WTTC, which represents the global travel and tourism private sector, said in a statement on Tuesday.

It calls on governments around the world rather to redefine their whole approach to risk assessment in order to revive international business and leisure travel.

In the view of the WTTC, a common international consensus is needed on the metrics used to assess risk as well as a focus on a cost-effective, comprehensive, and rapid departure and arrival testing scheme for all travellers. This could pave the way forward for a “meaningful” return of travel.

“It would also ensure only those affected are forced to isolate, while travellers who test negative can continue to enjoy safe travels through observing hygiene protocols and mask wearing,” suggests WTTC president and CEO Gloria Guevara.

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Risk based on countries ‘not effective’

“Risk based on entire countries is neither effective nor productive. Redefining risk towards individual travellers instead will be key for unlocking the door to the return of safe international travel. We need to learn from past experiences and crises such as 9/11,” she says.

“We cannot continue labelling entire countries as “high-risk”, which assumes everyone is infected. The reality is much more complex. Not only does it stigmatise an entire nation, but it also halts travel and mobility when many people who test negative on departure and arrival could safely travel without exporting the virus.”

The WTTC firmly believes that implementing a comprehensive testing regime and the use of technology are the only practical ways to restore international travel securely. In its view, a comprehensive testing programme will be less expensive than the economic cost brought on by blanket quarantines and lockdowns.

The WTTC estimates that about 174 million jobs in the travel and tourism industry have been affected globally due to the impact of the pandemic. The WTTC’s 2019 Economic Impact Report indicated that, before the pandemic, the global travel and tourism industry contributed US$8,9 trillion (over R128 trillion) – 10.3% to the world’s gross domestic product – and provided 330 million jobs worldwide.

Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa, CEO of the Tourism Business Council of SA (TBCSA), which represents the private sector, recently told Fin24 that the current narrative overseas about there being “a South African variant” of the coronavirus should be addressed. “There are many variants. There are people with that variant in the US who never even travelled to SA. So, it is a [Covid-19] variant and not a South African variant,” said Tshivhengwa. “The tourism industry has proven we can do things in a safe way.”

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