Omicron Variant Travel Advice Issued

International travel risk mitigation measures should be part of an overall national response strategy
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South Africa (Vax Before Travel)

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed today an increasing number of countries are introducing temporary travel measures, including temporarily prohibiting the arrival of international travelers from South African countries and others.

These travel bans are related to the variant of concern (VOC) named Omicron.

The WHO calls on all countries to follow the IHR (2005) and show global solidarity in rapid and transparent information sharing in response to Omicron.

As of November 28, 2021, the WHO reported that 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures to potentially delay the importation of the new variant. 

Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. 

In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data. 

As noted in the recent WHO announcement, it is expected that the Omicron variant will be detected in an increasing number of countries as national authorities step up their surveillance and sequencing activities.

While scientific research is underway, the WHO advises the following:

  • Countries should continue to apply an evidence-informed and risk-based approach when implementing travel measures.
  • National authorities in countries of departure, transit, and arrival may apply a multi-layered risk mitigation approach to potentially delay and/or reduce the exportation or importation of the new variant. Such measures may include the screening of passengers before traveling and/or upon arrival, including via the use of SARS-CoV-2 testing or the application of quarantine to international travelers. 
  • These measures, nonetheless, need to be defined following a thorough risk assessment process informed by the local epidemiology in departure and destination countries and by the health system and public health capacities in the countries of departure, transit, and arrival. 
  • All measures should be commensurate with the risk, time-limited, and applied concerning travelers’ dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms, as outlined in the IHR (2005). 

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.

Any travel-related risk mitigation measures should be part of an overall national response strategy.

Since the beginning of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, WHO has monitored the international travel measures implemented by countries.

Essential international travel, including travel for emergency and humanitarian missions, travel of critical personnel, repatriations, and cargo transport of essential supplies–should continue to be prioritized during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, unwell persons or those at risk of developing severe COVID-19 and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities (e.g., heart disease, cancer, and diabetes), should be advised to postpone travel.

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