How to Travel With the New Covid Strain Omicron?
The World Health Organisation had pleaded with world leaders not to engage in knee-jerk reactions and has cautioned against the imposition of travel restrictions when the news about Omicron emerged.
This is specifically damaging to the World Tourism Industry at a time a bright light of recovery was shining. The World Travel Market in London or IMEX In Las Vegas just concluded successfully. A sense of optimism triggered new international flights, hotel openings, and tourism promotions in the world.
This optimism was destroyed within hours just two days ago when European countries immediately started to shut down travel to Southern Africa. This was followed by a U.S. travel ban directed by President Biden.
According to a press release issued by the South African Ministry of International Relations and Cooperations, the new strain was first detected in Botswana, second in South Africa.
It traveled already to Germany, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, brought in by passengers onboard international flights. This virus within a day is no longer an isolated South African issue.
Even though countries including the United Kingdom reacted within hours in closing borders, canceling flights between the UK and South Africa, it could not stop this virus from crossing internationally. It was already in Europe and Hong Kong before the rest of the world didn’t even know about it.
The State of New York, the South American country Colombia declared a health emergency based on this new virus strain, even though they still have zero cases.
This trend of restricting flights to Southern Africa is now isolating Southern Africa, closing its travel and tourism industry. Just today Qatar and even Seychelles announced the closure of borders and air links.
Saudi Arabia however just declared it will allow entry to travelers from all countries, as long as they have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, the Kingdom suspended flights to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Eswatini.
The Netherlands and a number of other countries are locking down.
Anita Mendiratta, advisor to the UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili yesterday wrote this tweet for her boss, which he published on his Twitter saying:
Experience has shown that risk-based, a scientific approach is a way to go: To keep people safe without cutting the lifeline of tourism.
Travel restrictions stigmatize whole countries and regions, endanger jobs, and harm confidence. They are the last resort, not a first response.
Obviously, anyone who loves to travel, or provides travel services must agree with Zurab’s statement made just days before a not yet canceled UNWTO General Assembly in Madrid, but such words have no hands-on solutions.
The World Tourism Network wants to offer a new approacch, based on scrientific scrience, and the goal to keep travel and tourism functioning.
This WTN recommendation is in addition to the organization’s push for equality in access to the vaccine by all countries and requiring vaccination to travel.
It cannot be that there is enough vaccine in the United States and Europe, with a 30 or more percent refusal rate, while there is only an average of 7% vaccinated in many parts of Africa, and people are desperate to get access to this life-saving vaccine.
A low vaccination rate due to the availability of the vaccine is also true in countries just a few miles away from US borders, including many Caribbean nations.
The World Tourism Network is urging UNWTO, WHO, WTTC, IATA, governments, and the travel industry to push for a slightly different way to get on top of the problem. WTN feels this approach would not destroy the vital travel and tourism industry, and allow an optimistic approach for this industry to function and prosper with COVID-19.
Such an approach has been working for some countries, including Israel.
- Before every International flight require a rapid PCR test at the airport or within 24 hours prior to departure, even for those fully vaccinated.
- Assure that everyone on board an international flight is fully vaccinated.
- Influenca is a type of Coronavirus and often cannot be distinguished with COVID-19, make it mandatory for passengers to have a flue vaccination, specially during the flue season.
A rapid PCR test is a newer method for testing for Covid-19 that was recently approved by the FDA. Rapid PCR tests are an exciting new form of Covid testing because they combine the accuracy of a PCR test with the quick turnaround time of a rapid test. These Covid tests typically only take about 15 minutes to provide results.
Rapid PCR tests are an ideal option for anyone who needs accurate results quickly, such as someone who needs results for travel within 15 minutes away from departure, or when experiencing Covid-19 symptoms.
Rapid PCR tests are nasal swab diagnostics. They work by detecting specific genetic materials belonging to the virus. PCR tests look for the material that is found inside the virus on a molecular level, rather than looking for the proteins that are found on the virus’ surface, as antigen tests do.
The Rapid PCR test should become standard within 24 hours of international travel, and available at airports when checking for an international flight, according to this new World Tourism Network recommendation.
With such an approach the words by the UNWTO Secretary-General to use travel restriction as a last resort become more realistic.
Without it, every country will pull the emergency brake to protect its citizens. In most cases, this is too late, even when done within a day or two, or when waiting to understand a new strain.
WTN President Dr. Peter Tarlow says:
“We need to learn from this situation. There is no time to panic, we need to use our brains, and bring this industry, health and governments on the same page.”
This approach takes an enormous effort on all parts. Countries, including Saudi Arabia, had been taking a lead in Word Tourism and put the money behind good ideas.
Now is the time to invest in implementing a system, making it available anywhere in the world.
This is necessary, so all of us are protected, and to assure travel and tourism could prosper even when new health threats related to COVID emerge.