Tourists are welcomed by two Sri Lankan girls as they disembark from MS Europa 2 cruise ship. (For representation: Reuters)
Compromised immunity, and guidelines of various countries should guide your decision to travel these holidays, experts say.
- News18.com New Delhi
- Last Updated:December 05, 2021, 10:02 IST
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After the emergence of a new Covid variant ‘Omicron’ which has initiated travel restrictions across the globe including India, Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy on Saturday urged tourists not to cancel their vacation plans due to fears of a third coronavirus wave, instead urging them to focus on following precautionary protocols and getting vaccinated.
Reddy said due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the tourism industry was impacted not only in India, but around the world, adding that domestic tourism is on the rise, and people are flocking to popular destinations. “However, there is some speculation that a third wave may be on the way. Whether the third wave arrives or not, everyone (with travel plans) should follow corona protocol and travel to tourist destinations,” the Minister said in a press conference on Saturday in Goa.
In India, several states have imposed restrictions on travellers from foreign countries. Before boarding a flight to Mumbai, the state government has requested that all international travellers send details of their travel history for the previous 15 days. Passengers from high-risk countries will be checked at separate counters. Additional RT-PCR tests and institutional quarantine will be required. Additionally, all passengers with connecting flights will be subjected to an RT-PCR test. Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand have also imposed similar restrictions on inbound passengers to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.
The Centre had recently decided to postpone the resumption of scheduled international flights from December 15 citing “evolving global scenario” in the wake of the Omicron threat. The government will announce a new date later. The new order, however, won’t affect the current flights that are operating as it is only for the complete resumption that has now been postponed. DGCA further said that the air bubble arrangement that India has with several countries should remain intact.
The Omicron variant which emerged this past week in South Africa, has now four confirmed cases in India, as well. Dubbed to be possibly more infectious than the highly transmissible and lethal Delta variant (which led a devastating second wave in the country in April and May), much remains to be known about the mutant, and whether it is more lethal than Delta. However, amid fears of a Covid wave, people are undecided about whether or not to pursue their travel plans, at the typical time of seasonal holidays with Christmas and the New Year ahead.
Should You Cancel Your Trip?
Courtney Niebrzydowski, an international travel risk analyst at the University of Denver told the New York Times that people should to ask themselves two primary questions when they consider traveling: 1. Can this travel be postponed? and 2. How flexible can you be?
She also urges people to think through all the scenarios that could emerge if they travel — like testing positive, facing a canceled return flight or learning last minute that their destination country has expanded its quarantine requirement — and map out detailed contingency plans, including costs, missed obligations and how to approach health care. Often, she said, after going through this exercise, people have “less appetite for travel.”
Travel for the Immuno-compromised
Jessica Herzstein, a physician who advises organizations on how to manage the coronavirus and other health risks, including those associated with travel told the NYTimes that she discourages anyone who is unvaccinated or immune-compromised from traveling. She also advises travelers going to destinations with a particularly high prevalence of cases to consider canceling. For those planning to travel, Herzstein strongly advises booster shots for those eligible and to take along a supply of at-home rapid antigen tests.
It is to be noted that many developed nations have began giving booster shots to their populations. In India, however, a decision on a third jab to ‘aid aiding immunity’ is yet to be taken.
The Kind of Mask You Wear During Travel is Important
David Freedman, the president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, said that the type of mask one wears while traveling is particularly important. Freedman discourages people from wearing cloth or homemade masks; N95 or KN95 masks are preferable, he said.
It is difficult to assess how likely it is that a traveler will encounter an infected individual while flying to their destination. This is particularly important to consider when traveling with children too young to be vaccinated or to wear a mask.
The Mental Health Impact of Travel?
Part of the challenge that many people are struggling with is how to weigh the other variables — like the mental health benefits of celebrating Christmas with family, or the professional benefits that might come from interacting with co-workers face-to-face. It’s easier for governments to define “essential travel” than for individuals, Niebrzydowski said in the New York Times report.
Fears Not Unreasonable, Say Experts
The fear of getting stuck is not unreasonable, said the travel risk experts. If a person tests positive, they will not be able to reenter most countries, including the US, until they test 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 few nations have ever prohibited their own citizens from returning altogether.
“It’s pretty unheard of for a country to refuse to let one of their own citizens back in,” Freedman said.
Throughout the pandemic, there have only been a few cases of this. (At one point China closed its land border with Russia to everyone, including Chinese citizens. Australia briefly prohibited its own citizens from returning from India.)
With inputs from Heather Murphy’s article in the New York Times.