After months of severe travel restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic, many countries are now opening up their borders and resuming international travel. As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a document outlining the key factors health authorities must consider when restarting international travel.

According to the WHO, countries must lift travel restrictions gradually, based on a risk-assessment strategy, which evaluates the country’s local epidemiology, transmission patterns, the healthcare capacities, as well as the national health and social measures being taken to control the outbreak.

According to the document, the following factors have to be taken into account when re-opening:

  • Local epidemiology and transmission patterns;
  • The national public health and social measures for controlling the outbreaks in both departure and in destination countries;
  • Public health and health service capacity at national and subnational levels to manage suspect and confirmed cases among travellers, including at points of entry (ports, airports, ground crossings) to mitigate and manage the risk of importation or exportation of the disease;
  • The evolving knowledge about COVID-19 transmission and its clinical features.

The global health agency cautions that there is no “zero risk” approach in the context of international border crossing, but advises that when the priority should be given to essential travel, including travel for emergencies, humanitarian action (such as medical flights and evacuation), transporting essential health personnel, repatriation, as well as cargo transport for food, and medical and energy supplies.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the pandemic a “once-in-a-century health crisis” in a news release, adding that its effects will be felt for years to come.  Indeed, several countries are seeing a resurgence of coronavirus infections after easing lockdown and travel bans.

“Many countries that believed they were past the worst are now grappling with new outbreaks,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said. “Some that were less affected in the earliest weeks are now seeing escalating numbers of cases and deaths. And some that had large outbreaks have brought them under control.”