WHO will work with governments to gradually restart air travel

The World Health Organization wants to work with governments to gradually resume normal passenger travel, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday, while stressing that the global coronavirus crisis is not over, news wires reported.

"Of course, the pandemic remains a public health emergency of international concern," Tedros said in Geneva in an online press briefing.

But he followed the advice of the WHO's coronavirus advisory committee of international medical experts, which was convened under WHO rules for managing major outbreaks. The committee asked the WHO to develop travel strategies, and to analyze safety measures such as health screening, isolation and quarantines.

"This is a difficult issue because it is a question of confidence between [WHO] member states, it is a question of safe travel," acknowledged Didier Houssin, a French health policy expert who heads the advisory body. "But it is also a very important aspect for the activities in many countries which are relying very much on air travel," he added.

As countries have imposed travel restrictions and passenger demand has plummeted, many airlines have grounded aircraft. This has resulted in a shortage of transport capacity for cargo, including for essential supplies for tackling the Covid-19 crisis.

The advisory committee urged countries to "avoid restrictions on international transport of food, medical and other essential supplies." The disruption of air traffic has created a massive backlog of vaccine shipments that could result in outbreaks of preventable diseases, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned in a separate briefing. For the past two weeks, the UN agency has seen planned shipments drop by between 70 and 80%.In addition, freight rates have jumped 100 to 200%. More than two dozen countries in Africa and Asia are at an especially high risk of running out of vaccine stocks because they are difficult to reach, UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said. Last year, her organization procured 2.43bn vaccine doses for 100 countries, to immunize approximately 45% of all children below the age of five against diseases such as measles and polio.

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