Your burning questions about the Omicron variant and travel answered

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By Hannah Sampson

As countries around the world react to the new and little-understood omicron variant of the coronavirus, travellers are once again facing unexpected border closures, evolving entry rules and a dark cloud of potential cancellations.

Here are some key questions and answers for travellers in light of the latest developments.

Should I cancel my trip abroad?

The World Health Organization warned this week that some groups of people should postpone travel to areas with community spread of the virus.

That includes people who are unvaccinated or who have not previously been infected, those 60 or older, or anyone with pre-existing medical conditions that put them at greater risk of severe illness.

Is anywhere completely off limits?

A small number of countries have put broad travel bans in place. As of Sunday, non-citizens are not allowed to visit Israel for two weeks. Morocco is suspending incoming air travel for two weeks as of Monday, the Associated Press reported. And Japan is keeping all non-resident foreigners out of the country for at least a month.

Many other countries have banned non-citizens coming from certain countries in southern Africa. According to the World Health Organization, 56 countries had put some travel restrictions in place as of Sunday.

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Where has the Omicron variant been detected?

As of Wednesday, the variant had been found in more than 20 countries in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

How can I keep track of rule changes?

Airlines are supposed to keep travellers updated on the rules they need to follow in their destinations.

– Do travel restrictions work?

The World Health Organization has been critical of measures to ban travel from southern Africa, where the variant was first detected. And public health experts have pointed out that those border closures come too late to contain a new variant. But officials have said they hope restricting travel will help slow the spread while scientists determine how transmissible omicron is and how effective vaccines are against it.

How will the tourism industry be affected?

Even before the emergence of the omicron variant, the estimated blow to world tourism was $1.6-trillion this year, according to the UN World Tourism Organization. Last year’s direct economic hit to tourism was about $2-trillion.

The latest variant comes as travel was starting to rebound in many parts of the world, signalling a new round of financial woes.

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