How COVID Could Impact International Travel


The Delta variant is quickly establishing itself as the dominant COVID strain – but should travelers be concerned?

The highly transmissible variant accounts for nearly 58% of all infections in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has been detected in more than 100 countries. The World Health Organization expects it to become the most common strain in the coming months.

Some countries are starting to tighten entry restrictions to contain its spread, just as international travel begins to gain momentum.

“Without a doubt, this is a virus that spreads very, very quickly,” Richard Webby, who helps run the infectious disease department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, told USA TODAY. “It’s a stumbling block in getting us to the other end of this (pandemic).”

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What kinds of travel restrictions are in place today?

Travel restrictions vary by country.

Some continue to ease roadblocks at the entrance – Switzerland, Finland and Qatar have all started allowing more travelers in recent weeks – while others are starting to reimpose COVID security protocols that had been ruled out before the busy summer travel season.

Less than a month after reopening its borders to foreign travelers, Portugal now requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before checking into a hotel or dining in a covered restaurant at certain times. Some regions of the country also have a nighttime curfew.

Malta requires proof of vaccination or a digital COVID certificate from the EU to enter, and other countries – including Israel – have extended their travel ban in an effort to keep the Delta variant at bay.

“If I was a country that didn’t have a lot of this activity (Delta variant), it’s a virus that I would like to keep out of my community,” Webby said. “I would definitely impose travel restrictions from places where this virus is rampant. Unfortunately, at the moment, that’s a lot of places in the world.

Purvi Parikh, an immunologist who has worked as an investigator for some of the COVID vaccine trials, believes the variant “will definitely have an impact on international travel.”

“Various parts of the world could resume lockdown depending on the spread and vaccines and testing will be required,” she said via email. “(Some countries) may need to tighten lockdowns, travel bans, masking and quarantines, depending on the severity of the situation.”

She added that easing restrictions will depend on countries’ vaccination efforts, and “many are behind schedule.”

Parts of the United States are also starting to reimpose COVID restrictions.

Starting Saturday, masks will be mandatory inside Los Angeles County, regardless of vaccination status. And earlier this week, Chicago added Missouri and Arkansas to its travel advisory, which advises unvaccinated visitors from both states with increasing COVID cases to get a negative COVID test or quarantine in order to enter the city.

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How concerned is the Delta variant for unvaccinated travelers?

The CDC is warning Americans to make sure they are fully immunized before traveling.

Parikh recommends vaccines to travelers because the majority of recent COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations involve unvaccinated people. She also suggests checking local advice and country infection rates before booking this international flight.

“You may want to postpone the trip if an area experiences a spike or surge,” she said. “Be adaptable, (since) a lot of it is dynamic and changing. “

Webby added that the spread of the Delta variant may be of no consequence to many fully vaccinated travelers.

“If you are vaccinated and fully immune to this virus, it poses a slightly increased risk to you,” he said. But among the unvaccinated population, “this virus will cause more cases, it will spread more easily and faster. … If you are not vaccinated, now is not a good time to travel.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention warns Americans to make sure they are fully immunized before traveling.  In this photo, passengers arriving in Maui wait for their luggage at Kahului Airport.  Maui.

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How will the variant impact airlines?

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said on a earnings conference call on Wednesday that the company was aware of the risks that the new variants pose to the industry’s recovery, but that domestic demand is increasing and that ‘there are “clear signs” of a recovery in international demand as autumn approaches.

“While we know that the recovery in international demand will be very choppy and uneven, we are seeing strong reservations in Europe as countries open their borders,” Bastian said. “We know that our clients are largely vaccinated. “

Despite this, Savanthi Syth, analyst at financial services firm Raymond James, said in a note Monday that the Delta variant could delay the resumption of long-haul international flights.

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