Defy travel warnings this Christmas or not? What is the challenge of the omicron variant?

María Luisa Castro travels from Miami, Florida to Peru, her native country, to spend the Christmas holidays with her family. As she waits in line to check her bag and certify that she meets all travel requirements, she admits she is spooked by the appearance of the new omicron variant.

“I’m super worried because I realized that people have relaxed and very few are taking care of themselves. Many have already considered the pandemic to be over and it’s not like that,” he said. she declared with resignation to the voice of america.

She does her best to take care of herself, she adds.

The World Health Organization on Monday recommended canceling mass Christmas and New Year celebrations, given the rapid expansion of omicron. In the United States, coronavirus infections have already exceeded more than 50 million since the start of the pandemic.

Ómicron dominates in the United States

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that most new cases detected in the country are of the new strain. According to official data, 73% of positive cases belonged to this variant.

“Although it seems that the level of severity is not as high as in other strains, we see that it is a much more contagious variant than any that have appeared so far”, said infectious disease physician Dr. Carlos Riveros. in South Florida.

Passengers in the departure terminal at Miami International Airport, Florida, in the midst of the Christmas season. Photo: Antoni Belchi/VOA

Will the pandemic spiral out of control after the holidays?

Positive cases of COVID-19 have risen again and health authorities fear that after the holiday season the pandemic will once again be completely out of control. The United States is monitoring the situation around the world and the State Department has updated the list with travel advisories, taking into account the increase in infections in recent days.

Latin American countries, under the magnifying glass

Several countries in Europe, Asia and also Latin America, among others, have been included in this list. US officials are recommending reconsidering travel to places like Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Cuba, the Dominican Republic or El Salvador by placing these countries at Alarm Level 3.

Venezuela and Nicaragua are on the list for level 4, the maximum, and the authorities advise against traveling to these two countries under any circumstances because medical care is “very limited” and “the health infrastructure is very poor”, in plus existing security issues.

PAHO calls for “caution”

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) also called for caution and the need to continue promoting anti-covid measures to help curb infections, especially on these important dates when thousands of families are expected to come together.

“We have learned what to do to control this virus,” PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said during a telematic press conference to discuss the pandemic situation in the Americas in reference to the use of face masks, respect for social distancing and the administration of the vaccine to deal with the health crisis.

Alberto López came to the United States to attend the graduation of his son, who is studying at a university in Florida, and has returned to Quito, Ecuador. “We don’t know much about the new version (variant), but we have to be careful about the protocols that are asked of us,” he said.

Millions of people will travel for Christmas and the New Year

According to the Automobile Association of America (AAA), it is estimated that between December 20 and January 2, more than 100 million people in the United States travel by some means to visit loved ones. This skyrocketing movement is also registering at airports, which are completely full despite travel advisories from the authorities.

“We expect that during this Christmas week the number of passengers will increase considerably. Maybe up to 15% more than the numbers we had compared to 2019, when there was no pandemic,” said Indira Almeida-Pardillo, spokeswoman for Miami International Airport in statements to VOA.

“We have to learn to live with the virus”

Many passengers who take the plane these days to spend Christmas with their families consider that “we must learn to live with the virus” and that the measures enacted by governments “are more than sufficient” to prevent outbreaks of infection.

“Living with COVID-19 is already normal. I thought about traveling or not, but I think life goes on and there are things to do for work or for family. You have to decide whether to stay idle or travel to continue the routine,” said Mike Albarrán, a young Puerto Rican who was going to travel with his mother to Texas.

No additional measures, so far

The White House is monitoring the situation and so far no new travel restrictions have been imposed.

“Any option is on the table, even for domestic travel, but at the moment we already have strong measures in place in this regard,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, there. a few weeks ago, when the first cases appeared. of the omicron variant.

For now, all international visitors wishing to enter the United States are required to show a full coronavirus vaccination schedule and a negative test result taken less than 24 hours before boarding the plane.

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