Omicron variant has sparked new travel restrictions

The United States just reopened to international tourists and summer vacations to Europe are expected to soar in 2022.

Just when things were looking up for airlines and the rest of the travel industry, another COVID-19 variant has emerged. The omicron variant, first reported this week in South Africa and already surfacing in other countries, instantly sparked restrictions on travel in the region.

The United States, which lifted a pandemic-long travel ban from dozens of international countries including South Africa on Nov. 8, on Monday will reinstitute the ban for foreign nationals from eight African countries.

“We’re going to be cautious, make sure there is no travel to and from South Africa and six other countries in that region. Except for American citizens who are able to come back,” President Joe Biden said Friday. “We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is of great concern. It seems to spread rapidly. I spent about a half hour this morning with my COVID team led by Dr. Fauci and that was the decision we made.”

The president of the European Union Commission on Friday proposed a halt in air travel between the EU’s member states and southern Africa.

Here’s what travelers need to know about the new restrictions and the potential impact on travel in the months ahead if the omicron variant spreads rapidly across the globe. The World Health Organization on Friday labeled it a variant of concern. It also noted that in South Africa, omicron has been “detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection.”

Does the White House travel ban affect U.S. travelers?

U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are exempt from the African countries’ ban. But as with all travelers flying into the United States from a foreign country, they will need to show a negative COVID test to board the flight – even if fully vaccinated.

The U.S. government hasn’t halted flights to or from the eight countries but on Saturday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State raised their alert levels for the region, each recommending against travel.

The CDC issued a level 4 advisory, its highest, due to “very high” COVID levels, a level that carries an “avoid travel” designation. The State Department, whose COVID advisories generally parallel the CDC’s, also raised the countries to level 4, which means “do not travel.”

It was a dramatic jump in ratings. On Friday, South Africa, for example, was still rated a level 1 by the CDC and a level 2 by the State Department, the latter for crime, not COVID.

Source: Courier Journal