TAMPA, Fla. — In the last 72 hours, there have been plenty of headlines and discussions surrounding the newest variant of concern with COVID-19, omicron. With the delta variant still raging, the omicron variant has left many confused on what exactly they can or should do now.
First, a quick review. Omicron is a new variant of COVID-19 that was first discovered in mid-to-late November in South Africa. It has since spread to multiple other countries around the globe. With the variant being brand new, there are currently a lot of unknowns surrounding the severity, transmissibility, and other aspects of the variant, according to the World Health Organization.
ABC Action News continues to look in-depth at omicron and how it might impact your life. Remember, it’s still extremely early in the development of information and knowledge about the omicron variant. As President Joe Biden said, the new variant is, “a cause for concern, but not a cause for panic.”
Should I change my plans to fly soon?
Unfortunately, there is no firm answer to the question as there are still too many variables associated with omicron like the transmissibility of omicron, the severity of the variant, how governments and businesses will react to the new variant, and other situations. It’s just too early to tell what may happen with the omicron variant.
That said, it’s more important than ever to pay close attention to the rapidly changing information and responses to the omicron variant. As more countries report cases of the omicron variant, the situation for travelers can change in an instant.
Which countries have imposed restrictions/bans on travel due to omicron?
After the delta variant and other waves of COVID-19, many countries wasted little time in imposing restrictions or outright bans on travel. The U.S. imposed travel restrictions on several South African countries as has New Zealand and other nations. Japan went one step further and closed off borders to all non-citizens, while Israel has also imposed strict bans on some travel. Other countries have canceled flights to many South African cities and countries. CNN has compiled a list of areas and the related travel restrictions here.
Officially, the World Health Organization has criticized travel restrictions and bans to the area. “Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” WHO's regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement.
The speed & transparency of the 🇿🇦& 🇧🇼 govts in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended.@WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share life-saving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of #COVID19. https://t.co/6nHhuHlvTG— Dr Matshidiso Moeti (@MoetiTshidi) November 28, 2021
The WHO said all countries should take, “a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures which can limit its possible spread.”
Which countries have reported cases of COVID-19’s omicron variant?
The list seemingly grows by the hour, but as of noon on November 30, here’s a partial list of countries that have reported cases of the omicron variant.
- South Africa
Note: no cases of the omicron variant have been discovered in the United States as of November 30 at noon.
How long will the travel restrictions last and will there be more?
It may sound like a broken record, but it’s still too soon to tell what else may be on the horizon for the omicron variant. The WHO said multiple studies and experiments are underway to determine more about the omicron variant and how it will impact humans.
Does the omicron variant pose a bigger risk than the delta variant?
As of now, scientists can’t give a definitive answer. According to the WHO, early data suggested the omicron variant may pose a risk of reinfection to people who have had COVID-19 in the past but have not been vaccinated. It’s also unknown if the current treatments, including monoclonal antibody treatments, will be effective in treating the omicron variant. Scientists and drug makers are studying the issues to try to assess how to respond to omicron.
How can I stay on top of the latest restrictions to make the best decisions on traveling?
Keeping abreast of the latest updates from the WHO, CDC, and other government and international agencies on social media and through reputable news outlets is one way. If your travel does involve international travel, you can also sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program that lets you enroll a trip with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. The program will then send information from that embassy about safety conditions to specific areas and will let embassy officials get in touch with you in an emergency.
How should I protect myself if I do travel?
According to the WHO, the most effective steps individuals can use to reduce the spread of any variant of COVID-19 include: social distancing of six feet, wearing a well-fitted mask, opening windows to improve ventilation, avoiding poorly ventilated or crowded spaces, washing your hands frequently, coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue, and getting vaccinated.
Remember, the omicron variant was only discovered and reported to the world a few days ago. The situation remains fluid and will change many times and often change rapidly. While the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control say the risk associated with omicron is high to very high for the world, both agencies also say it’s still too early to tell the full ramifications of the variant.
Stay with ABC Action News for the latest developments as they become available.