Just when the travel industry was eyeing a major comeback from COVID border closures and huge decreases in business over the last two years, another variant came along to mess up plans once again. Amid fears of how contagious and severe the omicron variant might be, some countries are closing their borders and others are reimposing restrictions that are discouraging travel.
Japan and Israel have closed their borders to foreign travelers, and several countries including the U.S. have placed restrictions on passengers from eight countries in southern Africa. The U.S. is also set to impose a requirement that all arriving international passengers have a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours of departure to the U.S. regardless of vaccination status. Previously the U.S. allowed fully vaccinated entrants to have a negative test taken within 72 hours of departure. It was less than a month ago that the U.S. opened to foreign tourists, prompting a surge in bookings that gave hope of a travel recovery to a downtrodden hospitality industry.
In Europe, famed Christmas markets in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary have announced closures for fear of visitors from across the globe spreading COVID variants. As of Wednesday, cases of omicron had been confirmed in two dozen countries, and epidemiologists suspect they will find cases in far more nations as the variant has likely gone worldwide by now.
Still unsure how dangerous omicron might be but wary after the recent wave of deaths and severe disease driven by the delta variant, countries are opting to err on the side of caution. The wisdom of that remains to be seen, but it will certainly have a negative effect on the travel recovery.
“Country-specific travel bans are too blunt an instrument and often create unintended but substantial economic and societal damage … In the U.S., a robust system of masking, testing, and vaccination requirements … obviates the need for country-specific bans every time a new COVID variant emerges, which is inevitable,” American Society of Travel Advisors CEO Zane Kerby said.