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Omicron Variant: What We Know

December 7, 2021

On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new variant, B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern” and has named it Omicron. First reported to the WHO by South Africa, the Omicron variant has left many wondering what’s next for travel and how severe the new variant may be.

Either way, we’re likely going to have to wait a little while to know for sure.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota, shared with the New York Times that lab studies to determine if current vaccines are effective against the Omicron variant and its transmissibility will take several weeks, while the alternative option of following breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated individuals could take months.

That same day, President Biden released a statement in which he shared precautionary travel measures were being taken, which included reinstated travel restrictions on South Africa and seven other African nations.

“As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises,” President Biden said in the statement.

After the Biden administration’s announcement, Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, issued a statement in response.

“The U.S. Travel Association respectfully urges the Biden administration to revisit the reinstatement of country-specific entry bans in the near term,” Emerson Barnes said. “COVID variants are of concern, but closed borders have not prevented their presence in the United States while vaccinations have proven incredibly durable. That is why America’s travel industry is a vocal proponent of everyone getting a vaccine.

“With a vaccine and testing requirement in place to enter the U.S. we continue to believe that assessing an individual’s risk and health status is the best way to welcome qualified global travelers into the United States.”

Meanwhile, in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a “first-in-the-nation” vaccine mandate for private employers, applying to in-person employees. Specific rules will be released December 15, leaving some space before the mandate takes effect December 27. The announcement has seen a mixed response from business owners and public officials, and only time will tell what the final mandate looks like.

The CDC continues to recommends people follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently and physically distancing from others. CDC also recommends that everyone 5 years and older protect themselves from COVID-19 by getting fully vaccinated. CDC encourages a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for those who are eligible.

Those looking for the most up-to-date information on this developing situation as it relates to travel should visit the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

 Written by Josh Veal and Sarah Suydam for Teach & Travel.

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