Hwaseong, South Korea – Asia-Pacific countries have almost entirely missed the global air transport recovery, with flights still down more than 90% from pre-pandemic levels, new figures show.
The region is the only part of the world to have seen virtually no improvement in air transport over the past year, with traffic rising just 0.3% in October compared to September.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released the figures Thursday as it warned that a series of travel bans to stop the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant threatened to derail the fragile aviation recovery global.
Travel to Asia-Pacific fell 93.1% in October 2021 from October 2019 – almost unchanged from the 92.8% drop in September 2021 from two years earlier, according to the trade organization .
By comparison, airlines in the Middle East saw demand increase by nearly 7 percentage points, with traffic in October down 60.3% from before the pandemic. European carriers saw demand increase by almost 6 percentage points, with traffic down just 50.6% compared to October 2019.
Latin American airlines reported an increase of more than 6 percentage points, with traffic falling 55.1% in October.
North American carriers saw a 57% drop in traffic from 2019, an improvement from a 61.4% drop in September.
African airline traffic fell 60.2% in October, compared to 62.1% over the same period in 2019.
IATA chief executive Willie Walsh said governments were jeopardizing the recovery by implementing “untimely” travel bans despite criticism from the World Health Organization of the measures.
âThe October traffic performance reinforces the fact that people will be moving when permitted,â Walsh said. âUnfortunately, the government’s responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant endanger the global connectivity that has taken so long to rebuild.â
âThe logic of the WHO opinion was evident a few days after the identification of Omicron in South Africa, its presence having already been confirmed on all continents. Misguided travel bans are as ineffective as closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.
Despite vaccinations approaching maximum rates in many parts of the region, Asia-Pacific was largely closed to non-essential travel even before the emergence of the new variant.
WHO has designated Omicron as a âvariant of concernâ. While some scientists fear the variant may no longer be transmissible or more easily eluded vaccines, health officials have stressed that little is known about the strain.
While dozens of countries have banned travel from southern Africa, where the variant was first discovered, in recent days, countries like Japan, South Korea and Australia have taken more action. radicals to largely restrict travel.
In 2019, around 291 million tourists visited Asia-Pacific, contributing around $ 875 billion to the economy, according to data from the World Economic Forum.
Last month, the International Labor Organization estimated that just five Asian countries – the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei and Mongolia – lost 1.6 million jobs last year due to the collapse of international travel.
Gary Bowerman, director of Kuala Lumpur-based travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia, said Al Jazeera’s trips to the region faced a “huge cliff to climb.”
“We were starting to see some momentum building up in November, especially in Southeast Asia, as some countries gradually started or prepared to reopen their borders,” Bowerman said. “Omicron has blocked that, and this week we have seen a rapid withdrawal from travel by governments in the region as they erect new barriers to entry and exit.”