The emergence of the new Omicron variant has thrown the entire world into a new wave of uncertainties. As of writing this article, this variant has been discovered in up to 23 different countries.
Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has designated it as a variant of concern due to worries about its transmissibility, unusual profile, an abnormal constellation of mutations, and worrisome properties.
So, what is this new variant making a splash in headlines all over the world?
What Is the Omicron Variant?
The Omicron variant is a newly discovered variant of the coronavirus. The variant was sequenced by epidemiologists in South Africa, and their findings were reported to the WHO on November 24, 2021. According to their findings, over 30 mutations in the virus’ spike protein were discovered, and its origin is still a matter of debate.
There’s still much to learn about the new Omicron variant. Scientists are still learning to uncover the nature of its transmissibility, severity, and immune evasiveness. But just like all viruses and other infectious diseases, more data is needed to draw a full picture of its risk profile and transmissibility potential.
For instance, earlier reports indicated that the variant could only cause mild infection. However, the variant was only recently sequenced, so it is difficult to conclude whether this variant could be less severe than its predecessors or not since we do not have enough data to justify that at this moment.
What You Should Know About Its Presence in the United States
Just recently, the first case of the Omicron variant was detected in the United State in a traveler who had just returned from South Africa on November 22, 2021. Further investigations revealed that the affected individual only experienced mild symptoms and has even recovered.
Just as expected, this new variant has thrown a wave of uncertainties concerning holiday travel. If you plan to travel, do not cancel your trip yet. The key is to stay informed about the traveling and testing requirements in destination states and countries.
Most airlines, states, and destination countries will require proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 1-3 days of departure regardless of vaccination status or citizenship. The test that is currently recognized by international airlines and countries is the PCR test.
However, travel guidelines vary from state to state and at the international level. Similarly, travel requirements get updated from time to time. Hence, it is important to stay informed about these changes.
Vaccines and the Omicron Variant
Vaccines are highly effective in reducing a person’s risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19. However, scientists are still trying to understand the nature of the virus’ transmissibility and measure its capacity to evade the immune response.
Some countries are currently trying their best to roll out vaccine booster doses to control the spread of the variant. But the impact and the extent to which a booster dose will provide effective protection is still being investigated by experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that the recent emergence of this new variant emphasizes how vaccination plays a crucial role in protecting against coronavirus infection.
Getting COVID-19 Testing Amid the Omicron Variant
Amid the uncertainties regarding the Omicron variant, there are concerns if current COVID-19 tests can actually detect the Omicron variant and the implication for traveling. Short answer, yes. According to experts, current tests should be able to detect the Omicron variant.
Also, since the Omicron variant falls under the category of coronavirus variants, all current COVID-19 testing and traveling requirements that apply during these uncertain times apply to the Omicron variant as well.
It is important for travelers to know which airlines and destination countries require negative proof of COVID-19 test results and get tested, so it doesn’t serve as a barrier to their travel plans.