The Travel Industry’s Revival Stalls as Omicron Surges
At a time when some travel industry forecasts had begun to express optimism that the sector could expect a full recovery by the end of the year, or early 2022, the new Omicron variant has dashed all such hopes.
Once again, the world finds itself confronted with a new COVID-19 variant that is spreading globally at alarming rates, and countries have been forced into immediate action to limit further spread of the highly contagious variant. As more restrictions are imposed, travel in general, and leisure travel in particular has become extremely challenging. This is especially true for those traveling from countries with skyrocketing infection rates.
At Infomineo, we previously published an article and research on how COVID-19 impacted the travel & tourism industry globally, in which we plotted the major effects of the pandemic on several tourism sectors. In this article, we aim to shed light on the travel restrictions being put in place following the emergence of the Omicron variant, by highlighting recent restrictions enacted in selected countries.
Detection and Early Development
Omicron was first identified in late November by South African scientists, who reported the variant to the World Health Organization (WHO). On 26 November 2021, the agency designated the variant B.1.1.529, or Omicron, a variant of concern, on the advice of its Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution.
The origins of the new variant remain uncertain, however, with the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, reporting that retests of samples taken on Nov. 19 and 23 found that Omicron was already in the Netherlands before South Africa reported it to WHO. In a statement released December 1, Nigeria’s national public health institute announced it had detected the country’s first omicron case in a sample that was collected in October.
As of December 16, Omicron had been detected in 89 countries, with coronavirus cases involving the variant doubling every 1.5 to 3 days, according to the World Health Organization.
Impact on Travel & Tourism
As a result of the new variant, travel & tourism have been severely disrupted. Just days after Omicron was identified, several countries had already closed their borders to halt the spread of the virus.
Many countries first reacted by restricting travel from South Africa. Some governments, including those of the US, and all 27 member states of the European Union, broadened these restrictions to include seven other countries in the region, having deemed them high-risk areas where the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly (Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Eswatini, Malawi, and Lesotho).
Travel restrictions are no longer limited to travelers from southern Africa, however, with many countries around the world putting in place wide-ranging restrictions and regulations to limit the spread of the virus:
- Sweden has introduced a new testing protocol for all travelers regardless of their vaccination status and country of origin, with the decision coming into effect on December 28.
- Germany has imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all travelers arriving from the UK, which began on December 20.
- Israel added the US to its list of “red countries”, on December 20, along with Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, and Turkey. This designation means that Israeli citizens and permanent residents are banned from traveling to those countries unless they get a special exemption and that all travelers from those countries must quarantine on arrival, regardless of vaccination status.
- France imposed tighter restrictions for travel between the U.K. and France, requiring “compelling reasons” for such travel — tourism and business do not qualify under the changes.
- South Korea has restricted flights from eight countries.
- Thailand Singapore and Japan have closed their borders to most foreign travelers.
The countries listed above are only a sample of those that have taken immediate action to halt the spread of the new Omicron variant. As the situation continues to evolve, many more countries are imposing travel restrictions and updating those already in place. While it is unclear exactly how long travelers, or the industry, can expect such restrictions to continue, it seems safe to assume that travel will be greatly affected for some time to come.
Author: Mohamed Aref