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PARIS: Airline ticket sales have fallen sharply since the end of 2021, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Wednesday, blaming governments for having "over-reacted" to the Omicron Covid variant by closing borders.

IATA, which groups over 290 airlines, said international air travel had been slowly but steadily recovering from the mass shutdowns of 2020 and early 2021 before the fast-spreading Omicron strain was discovered at the end of November.

Ticket sales in November were 60.5 percent below their pre-pandemic November 2019 level, marking an improvement on the 64.8 percent decline recorded a month earlier.

"Unfortunately, governments over-reacted to the emergence of the Omicron variant at the close of the month and resorted to the tried-and-failed methods of border closures, excessive testing of travelers and quarantine to slow the spread," IATA president Willie Walsh accused.

China suspends more US flights, further cutting access

As a result, he said, the industry was bracing for "a more difficult first quarter than expected."

IATA's members account for 83 percent of global air traffic.

In October, the association forecast cumulative industry losses of $11.6 billion in 2022, down from an estimated $51.8 billion in 2021 and $137.7 billion in 2020.

IATA said it expected US airlines to turn profits again this year but that European carriers, which operate more long-haul flights and are therefore more exposed to border closures, would remain in the red.

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