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World: How the new Covid-19 variant impacts your travel plans

Nu B.1.1.529 COVID Variant Possibly 500 Percent More Infectious Than Delta

  Nu B.1.1.529 COVID Variant Possibly 500 Percent More Infectious Than Delta The new variant has more than double the number of "bad spike mutations" compared to the highly transmissible Delta variant, a scientist has warned.The new variant is thought to have 32 mutations in its spike protein and is feared to be able to bypass vaccines and immunity gained from being infected before. The B.1.1.529 variant that first emerged in southern Africa, has been detected in Belgium, South Africa, Hong Kong and Israel. The variant has been described as "the worst one we've seen so far" and scientists are concerned about it spreading.

The discovery of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus has left governments around the world scrambling, leading to a steady stream of increased travel restrictions since the World Health Organization designated B.1.1.529 " as a "variant of concern" on November 26.

Several countries are bringing in extra testing regimes. © James D. Morgan/Getty Images Several countries are bringing in extra testing regimes.

Little is known about the new variant, dubbed Omicron, including how it will impact those infected or the levels of efficacy vaccines provide against it.

But officials in many countries aren't taking chances. Major travel destinations have moved to block flights from multiple countries in southern Africa following the discovery of the Omicron variant, while others are limiting travel from affected areas to citizens only.

Five things to know about omicron, new COVID-19 'variant of concern'

  Five things to know about omicron, new COVID-19 'variant of concern' The announcement of a COVID-19 variant called B.1.1529 this week by scientists in South Africa, where it was first detected, has sent governments and financial markets around the world reeling.The World Health Organization (WHO) held an emergency meeting on Friday, where it designated the new strain, which it called omicron, a "variant of concern," or VOC, a label applied when a particular strain is especially virulent, transmissible or able to defeat public health measures. The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered its worst single-day drop of the year, plummeting more than 900 points.

Travelers are advised to get insurance to cover Covid-related issues. © Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images Travelers are advised to get insurance to cover Covid-related issues.

For those hoping the worst of the pandemic was in the rear view mirror and they could finally plan some long-overdue getaways abroad, the news comes as a harsh blow and raises multiple questions.

Here are some of the biggest ones that might be on travelers' minds right now.

How are countries responding to the new variant?

Would-be travelers could be forgiven for feeling a bit of déjà vu right now. The dash to introduce new entry restrictions and cancel flights bears stark similarities to the global freeze on travel that crushed the international tourism community when Covid-19 began to spread in early 2020.

Cases of Omicron have been found on multiple continents, with countries including Germany, Canada, Italy, Israel and Hong Kong all reporting cases as of Monday morning. But the majority of the new restrictions are focused on countries in southern Africa.

WHO names new variant of concern 'omicron,' as scientists advise caution

  WHO names new variant of concern 'omicron,' as scientists advise caution The World Health Organization on Friday named the new variant "omicron" and called it a "variant of concern."In a statement released Friday, WHO said preliminary evidence suggested "an increased risk of reinfection with this variant" as it added the new discovery to the list of variants of concern, giving it the name "omicron.

For instance, New Zealand is now banning travel from nine southern African countries due to concerns over the new Omicron variant: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.

Only New Zealand citizens are allowed to travel from these countries.

Some countries are canceling flights entirely from several southern Africa countries, while others are imposing new quarantine restrictions on travelers arriving via certain destinations.

Japan has taken a more stringent approach and, as of November 30, will close to any non-citizens, including international students or people visiting family.

We've broken down what some major destinations are doing in detail here.

I'm not traveling through Africa. Are my plans at risk?

The situation is incredibly fluid right now. As noted above, cases are already appearing in countries elsewhere, from Canada to Australia, meaning further restrictions could be imminent.

New COVID variant threat causes worldwide scramble

  New COVID variant threat causes worldwide scramble BRUSSELS (AP) — Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is racing to contain a new coronavirus variant potentially more dangerous than the one that has fueled relentless waves of infection on nearly every continent. A World Health Organization panel named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States.

With few exceptions, governments in most countries are allowing citizens and permanent residents from the southern Africa countries to return home.

As we saw in 2020, the situation can change quickly, so travelers are advised to keep abreast of the latest news.

It's also wise take the added step of registering with your government's online alert program. In the case of US citizens and nationals, the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service that allows those traveling and living abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest US embassy or consulate.

STEP sends out important information from the embassy about safety conditions in specific destinations and allows embassy officials to contact you in the event of an emergency.

How long will these restrictions last?

It's too soon to tell.

The US is restricting travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi starting Monday, US administration officials told CNN.

President Joe Biden told the press he had "decided we're going to be cautious" about the variant. "We don't know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly," he said.

Omicron COVID Variant, With Worrying Mutations, Detected in These Countries

  Omicron COVID Variant, With Worrying Mutations, Detected in These Countries Several countries have restricted travel after World Health Organization designated the heavily mutated form of COVID a variant of concern.Currently, it seems that the Omicron variant is highly divergent with a high number of mutations, some of which are concerning as they could be associated with an increased possibility of escaping immune responses.

This appears to be the case in other countries, with the aim of slowing the spread of infections as they work to figure out just how severe this new, reportedly more infectious variant is and whether vaccines afford much protection.

The world is in a "race against time" with the Omicron coronavirus variant, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday.

I've already booked my holiday travel plans. Should I cancel?

For those who have booked international travel for the upcoming winter holiday season, the timing is indeed unfortunate.

At the moment, it's too early to tell whether the new variant will lead to further international travel restrictions.

Experts say those who have weighed the risks and decide to book would be wise to ensure they have a comprehensive Covid-19 insurance plan in place to compensate for all possibilities and make sure their airline/hotel has a flexible cancellation policy.

"What's most crucial is to really pay attention to flexible booking policies," Rory Boland, travel editor at UK consumer magazine Which? tells CNN.

"Lots of holiday companies and airlines have them, but there's a huge amount of difference in what they do and don't cover.

"Some will cover for almost any eventuality if restrictions are introduced even in the country you're going to. They will rebook you for free. Others cover very little, while prominently advertising flexible booking.

Scotland Officials Concerned Omicron Variant Has Community Spread as 6 Cases Confirmed

  Scotland Officials Concerned Omicron Variant Has Community Spread as 6 Cases Confirmed Countries throughout the world are taking action to prevent a proliferation of the variant as scientists are still working to determine the danger it poses. Some nations like Japan have decided to block any foreign visitors in an effort to stop the highly mutated variant from entering its borders even as cases began popping up around the globe, AP reported.For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.New cases in Portugal and Scotland might already point toward local spread of the variant outside of southern Africa.

"So book with a holiday company or airline with a truly flexible policy and take out comprehensive travel insurance covered against almost any change. What travelers want is peace of mind -- that's how you get it."

Will these travel bans and restrictions actually work?

As noted, governments are trying to buy time as they figure out the potential impact of Omicron.

But the restrictions are being criticized by some officials as unfair and ineffective. The WHO Regional Office for Africa said Sunday that it stands with African nations and called for borders to remain open as an increasing number of countries around the world impose flight bans.

The office said countries should take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures that can limit its possible spread.

"Putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity," WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.

"Covid-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions." Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of Covid-19 but "place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods."

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned against travel bans, stressing such restrictions are "not a long-term solution" when it comes to managing coronavirus variants.

"Governments are responding to the risks of the new coronavirus variant in emergency mode causing fear among the traveling public. As quickly as possible we must use the experience of the last two years to move to a coordinated data-driven approach that finds safe alternatives to border closures and quarantine," said IATA Director General Willie Walsh in a statement.

Japan suspends new reservations on all incoming flights .
TOKYO (AP) — Japan continued its aggressive stance against a new coronavirus variant on Wednesday, asking international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December in a further tightening of already strict border controls. The transportation ministry said the request is an emergency precaution amid growing worry over the spread of the new omicron variant. The move by the world’s third largest economy, coupled with its recent return to a ban on foreign visitors, is among the most stringent anywhere, and more in line with cloistered neighbor China than with some other democracies in the region.

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