Travel Ban

Omicron Variant Forces New Travel Restrictions and Protocols Across Globe

In what has seemingly become an ever-expected piece saying, the travel industry will once again be heading towards new restrictions – this time due to the rise of the Omicron variant.

In order to curb the spread of the variant, the Biden Administration initiated travel bans on Nov. 29 against South Africa — where the strain was first identified back in late November — Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, and Eswatini. The State Department also issued a “do not travel” advisory for citizens.

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This past Monday, new requirements were introduced for inbound travelers, which includes U.S. citizens. Air travelers are required to present airlines with proof of a negative COVID test that was taken one day before departure. This is lowered from the previous three days.

Meanwhile, tests that are accepted still include antigen and nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT). Travelers are not required to take an additional COVID test upon landing. So far, general tests have been able to detect Omicron, and should “remain adequate.” Currently, 19 states have detected an Omicron variant, as have 50 countries.

The United Kingdom has instituted similar testing protocol, along with banning travel to multiple African countries – Nigeria just became the 11th country added to their red list.

Like every other governmental action during the pandemic, the South Africa ban has had controversial aspects. The New Yorker pointed out that before the restrictions went into effect, strains were also detected in the U.K., Germany, and the Czech Republic – yet,  travelers are still currently free to enter and leave those countries.

Meanwhile, South Africans have expressed displeasure. “I think the government’s decision is wicked, unfair and a heavy financial burden,” a Nigerian man living in the U.K. told the BBC in regards to the government’s restrictions that force a paid-quarantine for residents returning to the country.

Despite numerous countries’ efforts, it might not be any good in the long run. Speaking with NPR, Yale Institute of Global Health director Saad Omer said these bans have “very little utility.” “From what we know about the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 and the epidemiology of this variant, the horse has probably left the barn,” Omer said, while also agreeing with the belief that variant-identified countries should not be exempted from restrictions.

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Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like you may have to worry about your own holiday travel plans being flushed down the drain just yet. Appearing on a CNN Global Town Hall, Dr. Anthony Fauci explained that “if you have a vaccinated situation, your family is vaccinated, enjoy the holidays indoors with your family.”

While Fauci did say that traveling always opens up the risk of infection, travelers can help to further protect themselves by continuing to wear masks and getting booster shots that are becoming available to more and more people.

It seems travelers share these sentiments to an extent. According to MarketWatch, a survey found that 87% of travelers are still planning on following through with their Christmas trips, while 10% have cancelled their trips and 3% ended up changing their destination. 79% of the survey respondents expressed concern about Omicron, however.