WHO says there is no “zero risk” to ease travel restrictions

(Reuters) – There is no “zero risk” strategy for countries that ease international travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and essential emergency travel must remain the priority, the World Health Organization said ( WHO).

FILE PHOTO: A traveler walks at Tegel airport, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Berlin, Germany, on July 29, 2020. REUTERS / Axel Schmidt

In a long-awaited update to its travel guide, the United Nations global health agency said that cross-border travel for emergencies, humanitarian work, the transfer of essential personnel and repatriation would constitute essential travel.

“There is no ‘zero risk’ when considering the possible import or export of cases in the context of international travel,” he said in the updated guide published on its website on Thursday.

An increase in new infections in many parts of the world has led some countries to reintroduce some travel restrictions, including testing and quarantine of incoming passengers.

The WHO had said in June that it would update its travel guidelines before the northern hemisphere summer vacation.

Governments and industries can use WHO guidance to help shape policy, but it is not enforceable.

The updated travel tip has changed little from the previous guide, which also included infection control tips applicable to other settings, such as social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing, and avoiding touching your face.

The WHO urged each country to carry out its own risk-benefit analysis before lifting any or all travel restrictions. Authorities should take into account local patterns of epidemiology and transmission, he said, as well as national health and social distancing measures already in place.

Countries that choose to quarantine all travelers upon arrival should do so after assessing the risks and considering local circumstances, the WHO said.

“Countries must continually plan and evaluate their augmentation capabilities to test, trace, isolate, and manage imported cases and quarantine contacts,” he said.

The WHO said this week that international travel bans cannot remain in place indefinitely, and that countries will have to do more to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus within their borders.

Reports by Bhargav Acharya and Kanishka Singh in Bangalore; Written by Kate Kelland, edited by Diane Craft, Marguerita Choy, Grant McCool, and Timothy Heritage

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