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WHO advises high-risk adults should postpone travel over omicron spread

The new travel guidance comes as dozens of countries have barred flights from countries in southern Africa where the omicron variant was brought to attention.

WASHINGTON — The World Health Organization says that older adults and those who are at risk of developing severe COVID-19 should avoid traveling for the time being amid the spread of a new coronavirus variant.

As part of updated travel guidance issued Tuesday, the WHO also pushed back on the idea of “blanket travel bans," while acknowledging that countries could order quarantines and take screening measures like testing travelers before or after arrival, or both. 

"Persons who are unwell or at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease 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," the WHO COVID-19 travel advice states

The organization previously recommended that unvaccinated individuals in high-risk groups postpone travel to areas with widespread COVID-19 transmission.

The new guidance comes as dozens of countries have barred flights from southern African countries where the omicron variant was brought to international attention last week. WHO says the move unfairly punishes Botswana and South Africa for doing the right thing and being transparent about the emergence of a new variant. 

Some health experts have countered that travel restrictions are effective, and many countries have bucked with WHO’s traditional recommendation against travel bans. WHO said that as of Sunday, 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at curbing the spread of omicron.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” WHO said, while acknowledging the use of screening measures to help stem the spread of omicron.

In its statement, WHO said that so far, current PCR tests continue to be effective in detecting the variant.

Credit: AP
Passengers queue to check in, at Heathrow Airport in London, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021.

The U.N. health agency also said “essential travel” for emergencies, humanitarian missions and transport of essential supplies “should continue to be prioritized."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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