First it was Black Friday, then Cyber Monday. Now it’s Travel Tuesday, a day where there’s lots of deals on destinations.
With a new variant and covid protocols constantly changing, local travel agents we spoke to say make smart travel plans, so don’t just bite on the best deal.
“Nonrefundable rates are definitely a risk and we do not like to book them, especially far in advance,” said Melissa Albright the vice president of Wethersfield Travel.
With so many unknowns, should you still plan ahead? She says, yes.
Albright says travel demand has been taking off the past couple of months.
“I’m always a fan of booking ahead because especially now with all the pent-up demand for travel, space is limited.”
For example, she says Cancun is one of the most popular vacation spots for passengers flying out of Bradley International Airport.
But if you want to go in April during school vacation, she says you’re probably out of luck. The best flights are booked.
Another tip: have safeguards in place so if you have to make a change so you don’t lose cash.
Agents we spoke to strongly recommend travel insurance, but read the fine print.
“Selecting the right policy that’s going to cover the things most important to you and to fit your needs,” said Dianne Bourgoin, AAA Travel Spokesperson.
Make sure the policy covers what is most important to you. Does it cover pre-existing conditions? Does it include “cancel for any reason” coverage? What happens if the country you’ve scheduled a trip to gets included on the CDC’s travel restriction list? These are some of the questions you need to ask.
Also, beware of bundle deals. They’re easy to book, but if a flight needs to be rescheduled, it can become a headache.
Make sure to stay up on the covid protocols and procedures at your destination. Hiring a travel agent can help with that.
“Understand and knowing what your testing requirements are. Do you need to be vaccinated or do you need to quarantine when you get to your destination?,” said Bourgoin.
Don’t expect cancellation policies that became common at the start of the coronavirus crisis to still be in effect, like extended rebooking periods.
So they reiterate make sure to read the fine print for whatever you book: plane, train, and automobiles.
“I think in these days insurance and patience and just being flexible with all the changes that are happening is very important,” said Albright.
If having to get a negative a covid test to enter or exit a country makes you too anxious, she says that’s probably not the place for you.
“You don’t want somebody to be anxious about their trip. They want to look forward to it.”
Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection sent over these tips:
Read the terms of any purchase – understand the refund and cancellation policy before you book
Be aware ahead of time of any COVID-19 protocols. Masks are still required in airports and on airplanes, so be prepared.
Do your research to determine if you might want travel insurance. This comes with understanding the refund and cancellation policies.
A three-day special session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) has kicked off on Monday to discuss pandemic preparedness and response, amid concerns over the spread of the new Omicron variant.
The WHA normally meets in May but a special session was called for in a decision adopted by the World Health Organization member states.
A draft resolution currently under review stops short of calling for the establishment of a “pandemic treaty” or a “legally binding instrument”, which proponents say would beef up the international response to pandemics.
The WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel curbs. However, bans have been introduced in recent days including by the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States.
Here are the latest updates:
Hospitalisations in Michigan surge
Michigan’s number of hospitalized adults with confirmed COVID-19 cases reached a new pandemic high of nearly 4,200 as the state continued to confront surging infections.
The total of 4,181 surpassed the previous record of 4,158, which was set seven months ago during the state’s third wave.
Only Minnesota had a higher seven-case case rate than Michigan as of Sunday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
State health officials are urging people to get vaccinated and to wear masks in public settings to limit the spread of the coronavirus amid the fourth surge. The federal government has deployed military medical staffers to help Michigan hospitals cope.
Cuba tightens restrictions on eight African nation
Cuba will ratchet up restrictions from December 4 on passengers from certain African countries over concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant, the country’s Communist-run government said on Monday.
Travelers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, and Mozambique will be allowed to enter Cuba, the country’s health ministry said, but will be required to comply with multiple precautionary measures, including proof of vaccination, three PCR tests and a seven-day quarantine.
France reports biggest jump in hospital patients since spring
France registered its biggest jump in coronavirus-related hospital admissions since the spring, health ministry data showed.
The number of patients in intensive care units with COVID-19 jumped by 117 to 1,749 people, the biggest increase since March-April, when the ICU number rose by more than 100 per day on several days.
The French health minister last week said that France has entered a fifth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic.
WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk
The World Health Organization says the global risk from the omicron variant of the coronavirus is “very high” based on early evidence, and it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”
The UN health agency, in a technical memo to member states, says “considerable uncertainties” remain about the new variant that was first detected in southern Africa. But it says the likelihood of possible further spread around the world is high.
Canada’s Quebec province discovers first case of Omicron
Quebec has discovered its first case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Canadian province’s health minister said on Monday, bringing Canada’s total number of cases to three.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube also told reporters at a briefing that 115 travellers from countries affected by the new variant, primarily South Africa, were called and asked to take a new PCR test for COVID-19.
Omicron ‘not a cause for panic’: Biden
President Joe Biden in a televised address from the White House said the Omicron coronavirus strain “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.
“We have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before,” he said, while adding that his chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci expected current vaccines would remain protective, with boosters enhancing protection.
The US president appealed to the roughly 80 million unvaccinated Americans aged five and up to get their shots, and for the rest of the country to seek out booster shots six months after their second dose.
Biden also urged Americans to get back to wearing face masks in all indoor public settings – a pandemic precaution that has fallen out of use across much of the country.
Sweden reports first confirmed case of Omicron
One case of the Omicron coronavirus variant has been detected in Sweden, the Public Health Agency said.
The case was detected in a test taken just over a week ago from a person who had travelled from South Africa, the agency said in a statement.
Omicron: Are gov’ts prepared to deal with a new COVID variant?
Countries around the world have reimposed travel restrictions in response to new Omicron variant.
They were starting to reopen their borders and lift COVID-19 restrictions. But a new variant is now threatening to derail the progress made in the past few months.
Several nations have already imposed travel restrictions to and from Southern Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected.
UN’s Gutteres ‘deeply concerned’ by curbs on Southern Africa
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was “deeply concerned” as countries around the world imposed travel restrictions on Southern Africa in an attempt to stop the spread of a worrying new COVID-19 variant discovered there.
“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” the UN chief said in a statement.
“I am now deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries due to new Covid-19 travel restrictions,” Guterres added.
Spain detects first case of Omicron variant
Spain has detected its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in a traveller coming from South Africa, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.
The case of the new variant was sequenced by Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital, according to a tweet by its microbiology unit, adding that the patient was in a fair condition.
Moderna says Omicron vaccine could be ready by early 2022
Moderna Inc is having its best two-day rally in a year after the company said a new vaccine to fight the Omicron strain of the coronavirus could be ready by early 2022 if required.
The stock soared as much as 14 percent to the highest level in two months, after jumping 21 percent during Friday’s global risk-asset sell-off, to reclaim its place as top performer on the S&P 500 year to date. The company mobilised hundreds of workers on Thanksgiving Day last Thursday in order to start work on Omicron, Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said over the weekend.
The Omicron variant is highly transmissible and requires “urgent action,” G7 health ministers said, while applauding South Africa’s “exemplary work” for both detecting the strain and alerting others to it.
“The global community is faced with the threat of a new, at a first evaluation, highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, which requires urgent action,” the health ministers said in a statement following an emergency meeting.
Underlining the “strategic relevance of ensuring access to vaccines”, they pledged to hold to their donation commitments, as well as to provide support to research and development.
UK vaccine advisers say all adults to receive boosters
Britain will offer a COVID-19 booster vaccine to all adults and give second doses to children aged between 12 and 15, the UK’s top vaccine advisers said on Monday, accelerating shots in light of concern about the spread of the Omicron variant.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said that all adults between 18-39 years old could receive shots, extending a programme that is already open for over 40s.
“Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the Omicron variant,” said Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s Chair for COVID-19 immunisation.
Dutch find 14 Omicron cases among passengers from South Africa
Netherlands health authorities say they have found another case of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant among passengers arriving from South Africa, bringing the total to 14.
“With the help of sequencing, it has now been confirmed in 14 people that it is the Omicron variant,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said in a letter to parliament.
De Jonge had on Sunday announced 13 Omicron infections. They were among 61 passengers who were confirmed with coronavirus, out of 624 travellers who arrived in Amsterdam on two KLM flights from South Africa on Friday.
Biden to provide update on Omicron, US response: AJ correspondent
United States President Joe Biden is expected to give a speech on Monday to address the Omicron variant and measures required to curb its spread.
“What we expect is that the president will be urging the 80 million Americans still not vaccinated to get vaccinated, to get a booster,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent Kimberley Halkett reported from the White House.
“But what we think is the president will stop short of putting in place further travel restrictions with respect to international travel as well as domestic travel,” she added.
Poland announces new curbs amid Omicron concerns
Poland said it would ban flights to seven African countries, extend the quarantine period for certain travellers and reduce limits on numbers allowed into places like restaurants.
“We must appreciate the importance of this phenomenon and the risk that a new mutation emerging poses,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.
China’S Xi pledges 1bn Covid vaccine doses for Africa
President Xi Jinping has offered one billion coronavirus vaccine doses to Africa, in a speech made via videolink to a China-Africa summit in Senegal’s capital Dakar.
The Chinese leader said that his country would donate 600 million doses directly. Meanwhile, a further 400 million doses would come from other sources.
Ukraine orders self-isolation for travellers from countries with Omicron cases
Ukraine has introduced mandatory 14-day self-isolation for travellers returning from countries where the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected, the health ministry said.
“Travellers who have spent more than seven days in the Republic of South Africa, the Republic of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Kingdom of Eswatini, and the Republic of Mozambique must complete 14 days of self-isolation,” it said in a statement, adding that the list would be expanded soon.
Health Minister Viktor Liashko told a televised briefing earlier on Monday that cases of the Omicron variant had not been registered in Ukraine yet.
Vaccines should give good protection against Omicron: South African expert
Existing COVID-19 vaccines should be highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from the newly identified Omicron variant, a top South African infectious disease expert said.
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who served as the government’s chief adviser during the initial response to the pandemic, also said it was too early to say whether Omicron led to more severe clinical symptoms than previous variants.
However, he said it did appear more contagious and more likely to infect people with immunity from vaccination or prior infection, and he was expecting it to drive new daily infections in the country above 10,000 before the end of the week, from 2,858 on Sunday.
“Based on what we know and how the other variants of concern have reacted to vaccine immunity, we can expect that we will still see high effectiveness for hospitalisation and severe disease, and that protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong,” Abdool Karim told a news conference.
Preventing severe disease is mainly a function of T-cell immunity, different from the antibody immunity that often blocks infections, “so even if there’s some escape from antibodies it’s very hard to escape T-cell immunity”, he said.
South Africa says travel ban by African nations ‘regrettable’
South Africa says it is “regrettable” that fellow African nations have joined a rush to impose travel bans over the new Omicron variant.
“It is quite regrettable, very unfortunate, and I will even say sad, to be talking about travel restrictions imposed by a fellow African country,” foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said on Monday.
Angola, Mauritius, Rwanda and the Seychelles have halted flights from South Africa in a bid to shield themselves from the spread of the new COVID-19 variant.
Monyela said South Africa had recently made “substantial donations” of vaccines to some of the countries that were now imposing flight bans.
“When a fellow African country does that, especially in the context where most of these countries are beneficiaries … it doesn’t make sense,” he told an online news conference organised by the health ministry.
“That’s why we think these decision must be reversed immediately.”
Portugal probes local transmission of Omicron among football team
Portuguese health authorities have identified 13 cases of Omicron among members of a top football club and have ordered those who have been in contact with the positive cases to isolate and be regularly tested.
The national health institute said on Monday that one of those who tested positive was a player from the Lisbon-based Belenenses SAD football club who had recently been to South Africa, where Omicron was first identified. The others had not travelled to South Africa.
Portuguese health authorities are investigating whether this is one of the first cases of local transmission outside of Southern Africa.
Portugal also found two positive coronavirus cases when it screened 218 passengers arriving in Lisbon from the capital of Mozambique on Saturday. One of the cases was the Delta variant and the other one could not be established, authorities said.
WHO chief calls for ‘legally binding’ agreement to help prevent future pandemics
The WHO chief says the spread of Omicron is a “test of our collective ability to respond to future pandemics” and called for a “legally binding” agreement to coordinate collective action.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the WHA opening session: “Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics,” adding that “courageous and compassionate leadership” and an “unshakeable commitment to solidarity” will be fundamental.
Tedros said “our current system disincentivises countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores” after many countries announced travel restrictions to and from Southern Africa.
He also criticised the inequitable distribution of vaccines, saying access for all was necessary to limit the spread of the virus and its mutations.
Germany’s Angela Merkel calls for funding increase to WHO
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a 50-percent increase in funding to the WHO.
Speaking at the opening session of the WHA, Merkel called for a binding international accord on preventing pandemics.
Germany’s outgoing chancellor added that a global approach was needed to prevent the spread of a virus that “knows no borders”.
South Africa ramping up to cope with Omicron
South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla says the government is doing everything possible to prepare health facilities to cope with Omicron and scientists are working to establish whether it is more transmissible and whether vaccines can protect against severe illness.
Phaahla also said, at the news conference on Monday, officials are engaging with countries that imposed travel restrictions on Southern African countries to try to get them to reverse them.
South African epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim also said on Monday that not enough data had been collected to determine the clinical implications of Omicron compared with previous variants, and that reinfections are likely but that vaccinated people had less probability of developing serious symptoms.
“Based on what we know and how the other variants of concern have reacted to vaccine immunity, we can expect that we will still see high effectiveness for hospitalisation and severe disease, and that protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong,” Abdool Karim told a news conference.
WHO says Omicron poses ‘very high’ global risk, countries must prepare
The WHO says “the overall global risk related to … Omicron is … very high” and that it is likely to spread internationally with “severe consequences” in some areas.
In technical advice to its 194 member states, the UN health agency on Monday urged them to accelerate the vaccination of high priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.
Further research is needed to better understand Omicron’s potential to evade the immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections. More data is expected in the coming weeks.
Six cases of Omicron have been identified in Scotland, the Scottish government says, adding that public health officials are working to investigate.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at a press conference on Monday that not all of the identified cases had a recent travel history or known links with others who have travelled to the countries in Southern Africa where the variant was originally detected.
“This suggests that there might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland,” Sturgeon said. “But again, let me stress, there is no evidence yet that this is sustained, nor any evidence from the enhanced surveillance that it is widespread at this stage.”
Britain to unveil new booster guidance as Omicron spreads
Britain is set to unveil new guidance on extending the rollout of COVID-19 booster shots to those under 40 on Monday, in light of the rapid spread of Omicron.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has restricted travel to Southern Africa, tightened testing rules and made mask-wearing compulsory in shops and on transport.
He also asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to urgently review boosters for under-40s, and look at reducing the gap between second doses and boosters.
Britain, which currently holds the G7 presidency, has called for an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the new COVID strain.
Dr Angelique Coetzee: Omicron causing ‘very mild symptoms’ in people who are vaccinated
Dr Angelique Coetzee, who first spotted the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, says that so far, people infected with Omicron have “very mild symptoms”, especially those who were inoculated after August.
Coetzee, of the South African Medical Association, said Omicron had raised concerns due to its more than 30 mutations, which might hinder vaccine effectiveness.
While it might take weeks for scientists to understand the implications of the new variant, hospital admissions in South Africa remain low, raising hopes that the new variant will not lead to increased hospitalisation rates.
Speaking to Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, Coetzee said the travel bans imposed on South Africa were “extremely premature”.
Dutch police arrest couple attempting to flee quarantine for Spain
Dutch police have arrested a married couple attempting to flee the country after testing positive for COVID-19. It was unclear whether the couple had tested positive for Omicron.
The Spanish man and Portuguese woman had left a quarantine hotel and were trying to fly to Spain. They were arrested “in an aeroplane that was about to depart,” the military police said in a statement.
Dozens of passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday are being kept in quarantine at a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.
Singapore, Malaysia reopen land border
Singapore and Malaysia have reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut due to the pandemic and amid concerns the border might close again due to Omicron.
Under the latest arrangement, up to 1,440 travellers from either side can cross the land border per day without quarantine, if they hold citizenship, permanent residency or long-term visas in the destination country.
Travel requirements include testing negative for COVID-19 before departure and an on-arrival test. Malaysia’s Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said a traveller had tested positive to a rapid antigen test, and that some COVID cases were inevitable.
Singapore blocks Middle East airlines
Singapore has deferred the start of vaccinated travel lanes with Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in view of their role as “transport nodes” for affected countries, its health ministry says.
US scientist Fauci defends travel ban on African countries
US infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has defended the Biden administration’s travel restrictions in response to Omicron.
The US plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other Southern African countries starting from Monday. Fauci stressed the purpose of any travel ban was to buy time to ramp up preparedness, urging not to let the measure “go without a positive effect”.
First suspected case of Omicron detected in Switzerland
Switzerland’s first probable Omicron case has been detected, as the country tightens its entry restrictions to check the spread.
The case is a person who returned to Switzerland from South Africa a week ago, the Federal Office for Public Health said on Twitter. Testing will clarify the situation in the coming days, it added.
Switzerland has said travellers from 19 countries must present a negative test when boarding a flight to the country and must quarantine for 10 days on arrival. The list includes Australia, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Israel, and South Africa.
New variant not stopping New Zealand reopening
The emergence of Omicron has not changed New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland and move into a new, more open phase of its pandemic response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.
Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen from late Thursday, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.
Around the country, a new “traffic light” system will bring an end to lockdowns, but people will need to be fully vaccinated in order to do anything from getting a haircut to watching a concert.
Japan to bar foreign arrivals over virus variant
Japan says it will bar entry to foreigners, joining Israel in the strictest border measures yet since the discovery of Omicron.
Tokyo already announced it would require travellers permitted to enter Japan from six Southern African countries to quarantine in government-designated facilities for 10 days on arrival.
Japan’s borders have been almost entirely shut to overseas visitors for most of the pandemic, with even foreign residents at one point unable to enter.
No Omicron cases have been detected in the country so far. One traveller from Namibia tested positive for the coronavirus, and further tests were being conducted to find out if it was from the new variant, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said.
Moab on a mid-fall weeknight was full. All the motels, RV parks and tents sites had “no vacancy” notices. Every food provider from Denny’s to the organic, locally-sourced artisan places had limited hours and limited menus due to lack of staff or food shortages.
On the southernmost tip of Utah, things got worse. There was no avocado toast left at the Kanab Creek Bakery. At the news, vegans and foodies looked visibly wan. The staff feigned patience. I settled for coffee that oddly came from being roasted at the extreme north end of the state, in Logan, Utah.
This felt like what travel has become these days — lots of tourists, strained services, and everywhere, Help Wanted signs. And weekdays didn’t seem mainly for retired people. We got to Chaco Canyon National Park on a Tuesday afternoon, and the campground there was sold out.
Fall used to be shoulder or at least elbow season; kids were back in school, people commuting to work, some campgrounds closed, and some attractions boarded up. In the few all-season campgrounds, you had your pick of sites. The pandemic problematic abnormal has changed that, and now there are rearrangements of everything everywhere.
Tanja, who spells it that way, let us in the Circleville, Utah, RV Park and Kountry Store for free. “It’s my campground and I can do what I want,” she said before making her rounds on her ATV.
The Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, Utah, was not free and ready to close for the season. It’s near the Navaho Nation and many people were wearing masks. Nancy, the manager, tells us from a safe distance that she personally knew 40 people who died of COVID-19 in the last two years. She also gave us directions to the semi-secret petroglyph panels in Bears Ears National Monument; the same panels that the Friends of Cedar Mesa group would not mention.
Other things seemed normal. By the sounds of the accents on the sidewalks complaining about Utah coffee and liquor laws, European, Asian and Florida tourists appear to be back. Canadians were also back in their massive RVs, taking all our prime campsites and feasting on the cheap American electrical hook-ups at the RV resorts.
A lot of people bought a lot of decked-out adventure vans and pricey travel trailers during the pandemic, probably so they could have their own bathrooms. Whether they will be a passing pandemic fancy remains to be seen, but more people were taking to the back roads.
Travelers through the rural West could still find quirky or sacred things of more recent history than petroglyphs. I wanted us to visit the former mining town of Tonopah, Nevada, not least because it was the terminus of the country song “Willin’” — “Tucson to Tucumcari, Tehachapi to Tonopah” is one of its memorable lines.
Wandering among headstones, we realized that the current pandemic’s death toll had historic echoes of loss. Unlike most cemeteries, the one in Tonopah lists not just the year but also the cause of death. Historical society volunteers told us that although the tintype epitaphs are relatively new, they were reasonably accurate, based on death certificate records and the way death was described in the early twentieth century.
Cemeteries often tell fascinating stories; this one seemed to specialize in blunt facts about sudden deaths: A father died in a mine fire. His daughter, born two months later, died after one day. I can’t imagine the grief of the widow and mother.
I don’t believe in ghosts, just the bits of untold stories that leave you wanting more information. In another graveyard epitaph, “Life became a burden” was the only explanation for a woman’s death, the wording a euphemism for suicide a century or so ago. She was 30 and had come to the remote town from France. What was she doing in Tonopah and how did life become so brutal? Only ghosts know the true tale of these lives so quickly lived, just as quickly gone.
We moved on to another small town, wanderers through the West and its ever-repeating history.
Dennis Hinkamp is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He lives and works in Logan, Utah.
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Coronavirus: A total of 46 destinations currently have their borders completely closed. (File)
The coronavirus pandemic will cost the global tourism sector $2.0 trillion in lost revenue in 2021, the UN’s tourism body said Monday, calling the sector’s recovery “fragile” and “slow”.
The forecast from the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization comes as Europe is grappling with a surge in infections and as a new heavily mutated Covid-19 variant, dubbed Omicron, spreads across the globe.
International tourist arrivals will this year remain 70-75 percent below the 1.5 billion arrivals recorded in 2019 before the pandemic hit, a similar decline as in 2020, according to the body.
The global tourism sector already lost $2.0 trillion (1.78 trillion euros) in revenues last year due to the pandemic, according to the UNWTO, making it one of sectors hit hardest by the health crisis.
While the UN body charged with promoting tourism does not have an estimate for how the sector will perform next year, its medium-term outlook is not encouraging.
“Despite the recent improvements, uneven vaccination rates around the world and new Covid-19 strains” such as the Delta variant and Omicron “could impact the already slow and fragile recovery,” it said in a statement.
The introduction of fresh virus restrictions and lockdowns in several nations in recent weeks shows how “it’s a very unpredictable situation,” UNWTO head Zurab Pololikashvili told AFP.
“It’s a historical crisis in the tourism industry but again tourism has the power to recover quite fast,” he added ahead of the start of the WTO’s annual general assembly in Madrid on Tuesday.
“I really hope that 2022 will be much better than 2021.”
– ‘Confused’ –
While international tourism has taken a hit from the outbreak of disease in the past, the coronavirus is unprecedented in its geographical spread.
In addition to virus-related travel restrictions, the sector is also grappling with the economic strain caused by the pandemic, the spike in oils prices and the disruption of supply chains, the UNWTO said.
Pololikashvili urged nations to harmonise their virus protocols and restrictions because tourists “are confused and they don’t know how to travel”.
International tourist arrivals “rebounded” during the summer season in the Northern Hemisphere thanks to increased travel confidence, rapid vaccination and the easing of entry restrictions in many nations, the UNWTO said.
“Despite the improvement in the third quarter, the pace of recovery remains uneven across world regions due to varying degrees of mobility restrictions, vaccination rates and traveller confidence,” it added.
Arrivals in some islands in the Caribbean and South Asia, and well as some destinations in southern Europe, came close to, or sometimes exceeded pre-pandemic levels in the third quarter.
Other countries however hardly saw any tourists at all, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, where arrivals were down 95 percent compared to 2019 as many destinations remained closed to non-essential travel.
A total of 46 destinations — 21 percent of all destinations worldwide — currently have their borders completely closed to tourists, according to the UNWTO.
A further 55 have their borders partially closed to foreign visitors, while just four nations have lifted all virus-related restrictions — Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Mexico.
The future of the travel sector will be in focus at the WTO annual general assembly, which will run until Friday.
The event — which brings together representatives from 159 members states of the UN body — was original scheduled to be held in Marrakesh.
But Morocco in late October decided not to host the event due to the rise in Covid-19 cases in many countries.
Before the pandemic, the tourism sector accounted for about 10 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and jobs.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
A new variant of the coronavirus has prompted several countries to impose restrictions such as travel bans, while others have renewed lockdowns over the Omicron strain.
The new restrictions come after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new COVID-19 variant to be “of concern”.
The Omicron variant, which scientists say has a high number of mutations, was first detected in South Africa last week and has spread rapidly through the province of Gauteng, home to the economic hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.
It has so far been detected in at least four other countries.
Also known as B.1.1.529, the mutations could help the virus evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, according to scientists.
It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.
In response to the variant’s discovery, the United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from several southern African countries.
Here are the latest updates:
Variants may be a result of vaccine inequity: Analyst
Oksana Pyzik, global health adviser and a lecturer at teaching fellow at University College London’s School of Pharmacy, told Al Jazeera that vaccine inequality will likely lead to more coronavirus variants as the pandemic is prolonged, and that a more coordinated international approach towards vaccine distribution is needed.
“The World Health Organization has been warning repeatedly for months on end … that if vaccine inequity continues, if we continue to have high income countries hoarding vaccines such that entire continents are left with very limited access to vaccines, this will inevitably lead to a [more powerful] virus, a potentially vaccine-resistant virus,” she said.
Pyzik said that less than 3.5 percent of people across the continent of Africa have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“So only focusing on high income regions has been a short term view of the issue, and we have also taken for granted that Delta is the worst variant that we could come across and now we have evidence that points otherwise – of course it is early days, but what scientists have come across is deeply worrying.”
Oil prices crash as fears loom over global recovery
Cornerlia Meyer, an economist and oil analyst, said oil prices fell more than 10 percent.
“That was probably an overreaction, it’s always overshoot and undershoot,” Meyer told Al Jazeera.
“But it shows real awareness amongst traders … in terms of what does this mean … what will that mean for air travel,” she said.
“Should this variant spread, and if transatlantic routes close down again, that would be bad.”
‘Monitoring systems’ in place to detect new variants: WHO COVID lead
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, said despite people’s concern over the Omicron variant, the good thing is that “we have monitoring systems around the world to detect these variants very quickly”.
“This variant was detected a few weeks ago, and already, scientists are sharing research with us … so that we can take action,” she told Al Jazeera.
UK Labour Party calls for quicker COVID booster jabs
Britain should cut the gap between the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccination and the booster jab from six to five months, Britain’s main opposition Labour Party said.
“This new variant is a wake-up call,” said Labour’s junior health spokesman Alex Norris. “The pandemic is not over. We need to urgently bolster our defences to keep the virus at bay.”
Japan tightening border controls on three more African countries
Japan will tighten border controls for the southern African nations of Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia, requiring a 10-day quarantine for any entrants, the Foreign Ministry.
The new rules will take effect from midnight (15:00 GMT on Saturday) and come a day after Japan tightened border controls for those arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho.
Travellers from South Africa in Netherlands positive for COVID-19
Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for COVID-19, and they were conducting further testing early Saturday to see if any of the infections are with the Omicron variant.
“Travelers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol,” health authorities said in a statement.
“Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named ‘Omicron’.”
The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday.
Sri Lanka bans travellers from six African nations
Sri Lanka said it was barring travellers from six Southern African countries on Saturday over concerns about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
From Monday, travellers will not be allowed into the country from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, Colombo said in a statement.
Travellers who arrived from these six countries over the past two days will have to undergo mandatory 14 days quarantine.
Thailand bans entry from eight African countries
Thailand said it would ban the entry of people travelling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference.
Thailand will not allow travellers from these countries to register to travel to Thailand starting on Saturday, he said.
“We have notified airlines and these countries,” Opas said adding that travellers from other African countries will not be allowed to use the country’s quarantine-free travel scheme for vaccinated travellers.
South African scientists brace for wave propelled by Omicron
South Africa’s numbers are still relatively low, with 2,828 new confirmed cases recorded on Friday, but Omicron’s speed in infecting young South Africans has alarmed health professionals.
“We’re seeing a marked change in the demographic profile of patients with COVID-19,” Dr Rudo Mathivha, the head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital, told an online press briefing.
“Young people, in their 20s to just over their late 30s, are coming in with moderate to severe disease, some needing intensive care. About 65 percent are not vaccinated and most of the rest are only half-vaccinated,” said Mathivha.
She said urgent preparations are needed to enable public hospitals to cope with a potentially large influx of patients needing intensive care.
A growing list of countries, including the UK and Singapore, impose restrictions on travellers from southern Africa.
A growing list of countries, including the UK, Israel and Singapore, have imposed travel restrictions after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa.
Scientists have expressed concerns that the new strain could be more resistant to vaccines and could spread more easily.
European and Asian countries tightened travel requirements on Friday after a new coronavirus variant, identified as B.1.1.529, was detected in South Africa.
The Israeli health ministry said on Friday it had detected the country’s first case of the new coronavirus variant in a traveller who returned from Malawi. The traveller and two other suspected cases have been placed in isolation. It said all three are vaccinated but that it is currently looking into their exact vaccination status.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned against imposing new travel restrictions.
“WHO recommends that countries continued to apply a risk-based and a scientific approach when implementing travel measures … implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
The WHO said that it will take a few weeks to determine exactly how transmissible the new variant is.
“Researchers are working to understand more about the mutations and what they potentially mean for how transmissible or virulent this variant is,” the WHO spokesman said, as WHO experts began a virtual meeting to determine whether B.1.1.529 should be classified as a variant of interest or of concern.
BioNTech assessing vaccine against new strain
BioNTech said on Friday it was studying how well the coronavirus vaccine it developed with Pfizer protects against the new variant.
“We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest. These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally,” a BioNTech spokesperson said.
A total of about 50 confirmed cases have also been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana. The confirmed cases in Botswana and Hong Kong were detected among travellers from South Africa.
Britain announced that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon (12:00 GMT) on Friday and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test and to quarantine.
Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from Johannesburg, said “southern African countries depend on tourism and trade” and the new restrictions were crushing hopes ahead of the holiday season.
South Africa recently obtained its removal from a UK red list. “There is certainly concern on the part of the South African government, which said this ban has been rushed,” Miller said.
South Africa will speak to British authorities to try to get them to reconsider their ban, the Foreign Ministry in Pretoria said. “Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.
The 27-nation EU bloc also said it would consider new restrictions as it battles a fourth spike of the coronavirus pandemic.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordination with the member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region.”
Italy’s health ministry announced measures to ban entry into Italy of anyone who has been in seven southern African nations – South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini – in the past 14 days.
The Netherlands is planning similar measures.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said airlines coming back from South Africa will only be able to transport German citizens home, and travellers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not.
Germany has seen new record daily case numbers in recent days and passed the mark of 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Thursday.
Airports are busy again, and air travel is inching closer to pre-pandemic levels.
Driven by pre-Thanksgiving travel, 2.3 million people passed through airport screenings Wednesday in what the Transportation Security Administration said was its busiest day since travel plummeted to coronavirus lows in April 2020.
That is more than double the 1.1 million people who went through TSA checkpoints a year earlier on the day before Thanksgiving, according to a TSA database.
It’s also 12 percent below the number of travelers screened on the equivalent day in 2019, when TSA checkpoint workers saw 2.6 million people a few months before the pandemic.
The day before Thanksgiving is typically among the busiest travel days of the year, along with the days after the holiday as people return home.
The TSA has hired 6,000 new officers this year and has enough staff to deal with the increase in passenger volumes, Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokesperson, told Reuters.
“So staffing, while we are hiring, will not slow people down this holiday season,” Dankers said.
Still, airlines advised passengers to arrive at airports early in case of long security lines. Delta Air Lines suggested two-plus hours early for domestic flights and three-plus hours early for international flights.
CHICAGO (Reuters) — Airports and commercial airlines across the United States registered one of their busiest days since before the pandemic on Wednesday as millions of Americans traveled to visit loved ones for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Thanksgiving-eve usually tends to be the busiest day for travel. This year, however, working from home allowed many people to travel early and avoid the last day rush.
“So far, so good,” said Lani Emanuel, who was traveling from Los Angeles to Seattle to see her daughter. “It was a little tricky finding parking, but it doesn’t seem too crazy busy just yet.”
At Newark Airport, too, passengers did not have to wait long to pass through the security checkpoints. Some of the restaurants at the airport were not packed, either.
Yet, the Transportation Security Administration advised passengers to arrive early to allow extra time for security. U.S. carriers also ramped up capacity, anticipating higher demand on Thanksgiving-eve, data from Cirium showed.
Thanksgiving marks the beginning of what was shaping up as the busiest holiday season in two years. Rising Covid-19 vaccination rates have made people more confident about travel, leading to a surge in bookings.
U.S. consumers also enter the holiday season flush with spending power, thanks to a still-hefty pile of leftover savings from multiple rounds of government pandemic relief and now double-digit year-over-year wage increases as businesses compete for scarce workers.
Data out Wednesday showed consumer spending overall grew by a greater-than-expected 1.3% in October. Spending on big-ticket items like automobiles lifted the headline figure, but the data also showed broad-based increases in spending on services like travel and eating out that had been sharply curtailed during much of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Americans shelled out record amounts on recreation, eating out, staying away from home and foreign travel last month.
Ramping up staffing
The TSA expects to screen about 20 million air passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period, the most since 2019 when nearly 26 million Americans were on the move at that time. On Tuesday, the agency screened about 2.21 million U.S. air passengers, the sixth consecutive day with checkpoint volume topping 2 million.
Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman, said the agency has hired 6,000 new officers this year and has enough staff to deal with the increase in passenger volumes.
“So staffing, while we are hiring, will not slow people down this holiday season,” Dankers said.
The holiday weekend is also a test for carriers after a spate of flight cancellations marred travel over the summer. One in five Americans are concerned about delays and cancellations, an American Pecans/YouGov survey found.
Carriers have ramped up staffing and offered bonuses and other incentives to employees to ensure they have enough resources.
“We’re staffed and ready to get our customers to where they need to go safely, reliably and enjoyably,” a Delta Air Lines spokesperson said.
Calm weather expected for Thanksgiving should also help to prevent disruption.
U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak is also expecting a jump in passenger volumes. A company spokesperson said some trains are already close to full capacity.
Travel group AAA estimates, in all, 53.4 million people will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020, with air travel recovering to about 91% of pre-pandemic levels.