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What the omicron variant means for your holiday travel

The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

Since the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus was dubbed "a variant of concern" just after Thanksgiving, a number of countries around the world began imposing new travel restrictions in response to its spread. And, while not much is known about it yet, leaders have called for calm as we wait to learn more.

"Do not get hysterical. That is not warranted. We just don't know enough," New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy recently said. "Folks, I would say: Accept that there's going to be an uncomfortable period of time here where it's still delta driving cases... and we're going to have to allow the research" on the new variant to be done.

But the 2021 holiday travel season is underway, and if you're looking to take a winter getaway or go see family and friends for the holidays, you may be wondering how this will all affect you. After all, when the delta variant emerged earlier in 2021, some countries imposed stricter travel requirements, and many people — as many as 66% of respondents in one survey — delayed travel plans due to the variant.

So, when it comes to travel this holiday season, will the omicron variant have an impact? And should you cancel your plans right now? Here is what you need to know:

How will omicron affect holiday travel?

Right now, that's not entirely clear. Scientists and leaders do not yet have enough information about the omicron variant, but cases have been identified in countries around the world. So, we could see further restrictions go into place.

 

"There's no information on how severe the disease is, how much the vaccines are working, or how quickly it is spreading," says Michael LeVasseur, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health. "It's hard to come up with recommendations for holiday travel, even for myself."

For now, though, you do not have to be vaccinated to take domestic flights, or show a negative COVID-19 test (unless you are flying to Hawaii, which has vaccination and testing requirements if you don't want to quarantine once you get there), though the CDC recommends that you delay any travel until you are fully vaccinated, and get tested before and after your trip if that's not possible.

For international flights, the CDC advises that you should be fully vaccinated (there are additional requirements, such as showing a negative COVID-19 test, on before returning to the US).

The federal mask mandate that applies to public transportation is currently set to expire in mid-January, so that may be extended, given that the Transportation Security Administration extended it in August amid the increase of delta variant cases.

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