WHO Recommends People 60 and Over to Reconsider Travel Amid Omicron Variant

Travelers with underlying medical conditions are also advised not to travel.

People over 60 years old are among those advised not to travel amid the emergence of the omicron variant, the World Health Organization urged this week.

"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's advisory read.

The warning comes as a growing number of cases of the omicron variant are being detected around the world and a number of questions about the variant remain unanswered.

Travelers arrive for flights at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"All travelers should be 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 said in its latest guidance.

After the organization named omicron "a variant of concern" on Friday, dozens of countries including the U.S., U.K., and Canada responded with new restrictions on travel from more than a half dozen southern African countries within days. Countries including Israel went a step further and closed their borders to all foreign travelers, while Morocco has temporarily suspended all incoming passenger flights.

The U.K. has added a requirement that international travelers take a COVID-19 PCR test the day after their arrival and self-isolate between landing in the U.K. and receiving negative test results.

While the U.K. has stopped short of requiring testing before departure to the U.K., the U.S. is considering tightening the timeline for its required COVID-19 entry testing.

Vaccinated international air travelers now have to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their departure to the U.S. The U.S. is moving to tighten that window to 24 hours, Reuters reported.

"As we learn more about the omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States," a spokeswoman from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the news agency.

Reuters also said the U.S. is considering requiring international air travelers to take a second COVID-19 test three to five days after their arrival.

The omicron variant was first identified in South Africa, which has become a common target of travel bans. The WHO said it "commends South Africa and Botswana for their capacities in surveillance and sequencing and for the speed and transparency with which they notified and shared information."

The WHO expects the omicron variant will be detected in a growing number of countries in the coming weeks.

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure writer who loves discovering historic sights, wandering new streets, and walking on beaches. Find her on Facebook, Instagram, or at the airport.

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