Omicron here. Should you cancel your flight?

To cancel or not to cancel. That’s the question travelers grapple with as the Omicron variant travels around the world, reminding people that the pandemic rollercoaster ride isn’t over yet. What’s different this time is that the holiday travel season is just around the corner, and tourism in general is finally starting to pick up.

Whether the variant, which has been identified in dozens of countries, is more dangerous or more transmissible than other forms of the coronavirus will likely remain unknown for at least two weeks. The United States is among countries that believe it poses a threat serious enough to merit new rules. Shortly after researchers in South Africa spotted him, President Biden suspended US travel coming from eight African countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that the United States will tighten testing requirements, requiring all travelers entering the United States — including returning Americans — to submit negative tests taken within one day of departure instead of the three days now allowed. . Vaccination of travelers.

Although most people now have experience making high-risk assessments of health risks in the face of incomplete information, this does not make the decision about whether or not to travel.

Courtney Neberszydowski, an international travel risk analyst at the University of Denver, said she urges people to ask themselves two basic questions when they think about travel: 1. Can this travel be delayed? 2. How flexible can you be?

She also urges people to think about all the scenarios that could arise if they travel – such as testing positive, facing a canceled return flight or finding out at the last minute that their country has expanded quarantine requirements – and drawing up detailed contingency plans, including costs, missed commitments and how to deal with health care. Often, she said, after performing this exercise, people have “less desire to travel.”

The CDC advises against international travel until a person has been fully vaccinated. The World Health Organization recommends that people who have not been fully vaccinated, have never been infected, are 60 years of age or older or have comorbidities such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, postpone travel to areas with community transmission.

Jessica Herzstein, a physician who advises organizations on how to manage the coronavirus and other health risks, including those associated with travel, said she discourages anyone who is unvaccinated or immunocompromised to travel. It also advises travelers traveling to destinations with a high case prevalence to consider canceling. For those planning to travel, Dr. Herzstein highly recommends the booster shots to qualified and to have a supply of rapid at-home antigen tests.

David Friedman, president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, said the type of mask one wears while traveling is of particular importance. Dr. Friedman discourages people from wearing cloth or homemade masks; He said N95 or KN95 masks are best.

It is difficult to assess how likely a traveler is to encounter an infected individual while flying to his or her destination. This is especially important to consider when traveling with children who are too young to be vaccinated or wear a mask. Domestic flights in the United States do not require testing or proof of vaccination. Some countries and airlines require both. Others do not.

Dr. Friedman said creating a shorter window for testing – as the US recently did for everyone who travels to the country from abroad, regardless of nationality – makes sense. Testing three days before a flight can miss those who incubate the virus and it can be contagious and test positive by the time they board their plane. A trip that requires a PCR test is also less risky than a trip that requires an antigen test, he said. But, he added, there is likely to be more transmission risk in airports than in planes, with advanced air purification systems. Much is out of the control of a careful scheme.

Part of the challenge for many people is how to balance other variables — such as the mental health benefits of celebrating Christmas with family, or the professional benefits that might come from interacting with coworkers face-to-face. Ms Neberzedovsky, a travel risk analyst, said it was easier for governments to define “essential travel” than it was for individuals.

Tatiana Torres, 37, of Orange County, California, is among those who struggle with this equation. Ms. Torres, a retail facilities coordinator for a company based in Canada, is supposed to travel there for a business holiday next week. Because it started in January, she wasn’t in the same room with her co-workers. Finally, meeting her is valuable, but she worries she might end up stuck in Canada, far from her sick cat.

“I’m just like, is it worth it for something trivial?” She said on Tuesday. It has not yet decided whether to cancel or not.

Travel risk experts said the fear of tripping is not unreasonable. If a person tests positive, they will not be able to re-enter most countries, including the United States, until the test result is negative. Throughout the pandemic, many airlines have canceled flights at critical junctures, leaving people stranded for days — or even months.

One data point that determined travelers may want to consider, however, is that quite a few countries have prevented their citizens from returning completely.

“It is unprecedented for a country to refuse to allow its citizens to return,” Dr. Friedman said. Throughout the pandemic, there have been only a few cases of this. (At one point, China closed its land border with Russia to everyone, including Chinese nationals. Australia briefly banned its citizens from returning from India.)

However, when it comes to his travel plans, he reduces the risks by traveling to Montreal. Currently, the United States does not require a Covid test to enter through its land border with Canada. If he or a loved one tests positive, they will be driven home.

Gilan Yegensu contributed reporting from Geneva.


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