The WHO, which named Omicron as a variant of concern (VOC) on Nov. 26, says it’s monitoring the spread of the variant, and advised certain travelers to delay their trips to “areas with community transmission.”
“Persons who are unwell, or who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present increased risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes) should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission,” the WHO said in a statement on Nov. 30.
In its latest update, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that those aged 65 to 74 account for nearly 22 percent of all deaths by COVID-19 in the United States. The percentage continues to grow as age increases, with 26 percent for those from 75 to 84, and 28 percent for 85 and older.
The WHO said that as of Nov. 28, more than 50 countries had implemented some version of travel measures, including temporarily prohibiting the entry of travelers arriving from southern African countries, including South Africa, which first reported the Omicron variant on Nov. 24.
The organization added that the new variant is expected to be detected around the world as countries step up their tracking efforts. It recommended countries to test passengers prior to travel and upon arrival for COVID-19 and to quarantine international travelers, among several measures.
However, it advised against blanket travel bans, saying that the measures “will not prevent the international spread” of Omicron, and will “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
At the same time, the bans will adversely impact global health efforts by “disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.”
“All countries should ensure that the measures are regularly reviewed and updated when new evidence becomes available on the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of Omicron or any other VOC,” the WHO stated.
While countries doubled their efforts to delay the importation of the new variant, the WHO stressed that essential international travel should still be prioritized at all times during the pandemic. Essential travel includes traveling for emergency and humanitarian missions, and cargo transport for essential supplies.
Meanwhile, all other travelers are reminded to “remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, to get vaccinated when it is their turn and to adhere to public health and social measures at all times and regardless of vaccination status,” the WHO stated.