Transport bosses urge governments to avoid knee-jerk reactions to the omicron variant

Transport bosses have urged world leaders to avoid knee-jerk reactions to the omicron variant, which could put transport workers and the global supply chain at greater risk.

Cross-border transport workers including seafarers, air crew and drivers must be able to continue to do their jobs, and cross borders without overly restrictive travel rules, to keep supply chains moving, the heads of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the International Road Transport Union, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) have urged in a joint letter calling for governments to not reimpose border restrictions that further limit the freedom of movement of international transport workers and learn from the lessons of the last two years. The appeal comes as shipmanagers are already having to contend with further crew change chaos brought about by the omicron variant, as reported by Splash last week.

Some 60 nations have reimposed varying degrees of travel restrictions in the wake of the discovery of the omicron strain of coronavirus.

A crisis meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to discuss the impact that travel bans and other restrictions in response to the omicron variant will have on transport workers and the global supply chain is scheduled for today.

This feels like groundhog day for our transport sectors

Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, said: “This feels like groundhog day for our transport sectors. There is a real and legitimate fear that unless coordinated action is taken by world leaders we will see a return to the peak of the crew change crisis in 2020 where more than 400,000 seafarers were impacted by unnecessarily harsh travel restrictions. Our transport workers have worked tirelessly for the past two years throughout the pandemic to keep the global supply chain moving, and they are at breaking point. December is traditionally a busy time for seafarers returning home to their families and governments owe them the chance to spend that time with their loved ones.”

Willie Walsh, director general of IATA, said: “After nearly two years of dealing with COVID-19, we should have progressed beyond these knee-jerk, uncoordinated, Pavlovian-like responses. Public health officials tell us that we should expect variants to emerge. And by the time they are detected, experience shows that they are already present around the globe. Border restrictions that block air crew from doing their jobs will do nothing to prevent this while inflicting serious harm to still-recovering global supply chains and local economies.”

We should have progressed beyond these knee-jerk, uncoordinated, Pavlovian-like responses

Stephen Cotton, general secretary of ITF, said: “The same governments that have blocked global vaccine access are now the first to lock down their borders to keep the omicron variant out. Instead of pursuing a global solution to this pandemic, their decisions further risk supply chain collapse. It’s not only morally reprehensible, it’s economic self-destruction. We need universal access to vaccines now. It’s imperative for all of us to tell governments to stop bowing down to big pharma and pave the way so that every country can produce the vaccines needed to end this pandemic.”

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. Actually, it is not knee-jerking world leaders’ reaction. Bureaucrats have the say now. “World leaders” is just an expression, since they know nothing about the job, lack courage and are just puppets. The only exception is Xi Jinping whom, justice be said, has real power over Chinese bureaucrats.

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