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Should Travelers be Worried About the New COVID Variant?

Just as we began to head into a semi-normal feeling holiday season, news of a new coronavirus variant, Omicron, began to dominate headlines worldwide. Should travelers be worried about this new variant? We asked the experts to find out.

Should Travelers Consider Changing Their Plans Due to the Omicron Variant? 

Dr. Jasmine Plummer, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai, advises that travelers should continue what they are already doing to protect themselves against COVID-19. “Travelers should be vigilant by continuing with all CDC recommendations: Get vaccinated if you haven’t already, including the booster shot if you’re eligible,” she says. “Continue with masking and practice social distancing where possible.”

Right now, we don’t have a lot of information on this new variant. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta.” We also don’t know yet if Omicron causes more severe disease compared to other variants, so you may want to hold off on changing your travel plans until we have more information. 

However, what the Omicron variant has shown us is how quickly international borders can close. South Africa was the first country to detect and report the new variant (although Omicron was reportedly present in Europe before it was reported in South Africa). In response, numerous countries enacted travel bans and/or strict quarantines for travelers coming from South Africa and neighboring countries. If you have imminent travel planned anywhere in Africa, keep a close eye on changing entry rules (and reentry rules for your home country). You may want to reschedule or postpone your trip if you don’t want to face a quarantine. 

What Should Travelers Do to Protect Themselves Against the New Variant?

Until we know more about the new variant, continue taking the same precautions against COVID-19 that we know are effective. Wear a properly-fitting medical-grade mask, maintain social distance, and wash your hands frequently. The most important thing that travelers can do to protect themselves against the new variant is to get vaccinated. 

Although we don’t know if boosters are effective against Omicron, “We do know boosters are effective against other variants,” says Dr. Plummer. “So please follow CDC recommendations and receive your booster if eligible, which now includes everyone 18 and older.”

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