Don’t Delay Your Travels Because Of Omicron

The World Health Organization recommends those over 60 or with comorbidities postpone travel due to the Omicron variant of the virus. Many people are reconsidering travel, though United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby says he expects bookings won’t fall as much as they did from the Delta variant.

It goes almost without saying that the advice is different for someone who is immunocompromised and may be less protected by vaccines and less able to mount an immune response to the virus. However for most of us the right answer isn’t postponing travel, it’s boosters.

  • Vaccines almost certainly continue to confer strong protection against Covid-19, including the Omicron variant. The spike protein of this variant is different enough that breakthrough infections are even more common before, but there’s still probably robust protection against hospitalization and severe disease. As Harvard epidemiologist William Hanage puts it, “I would fall off my chair if it turned out that the vaccines’ efficacy against serious illness was seriously affected.”

  • Even though we’re still vaccinating against the original Wuhan strain of the virus, boosters do more than restore waning antibodies they seem to generate antibodies that are more broad-based and this robustness should confer strong protection against Omicron.

In the event of a breakthrough infection, we’re able to treat Covid-19 far better than we were early in the pandemic.

  • While Regeneron antibodies seem to be much less effective against Omicron (they’ll reformulate it), GlaxoSmithKline’s are performing well.

  • We will soon have Paxlovid, 89% effective against hospitalization when taken within 3 days of symptom onset in a phase 3 trial (and a mechanism unlikely disrupted by Omicron). The FDA needs to approve it now.

  • There’s fluvoxamine which is already approved and appears effective though not at the levels of Paxlovid.

These treatments should allow Covid-19 to be manageable. They should allow us to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Covid-19 is with us and is already endemic. We should embrace the tools science has given us, honor the people who have worked tirelessly to give us our lives back, and expedite the path towards updating these tools as-needed.

What we know about the variant is still speculative, but so far it appears as though it may not be more inherently infectious than Delta – but can spread more rapidly at this point in the pandemic because of immune escape. Get boosted!

People who shouldn’t have traveled before Omicron still probably shouldn’t. For the rest of us if you want a good reason not to travel internationally it’s that an infection will freeze you in place. You may be ‘fine’ but you won’t be able to travel. So you could be stuck outside the country longer than planned. You need to be prepared for that contingency if you’re intending international travel.

In the meantime pick up rapid tests, use them before gathering indoors with large groups, and carry them in your travel bag. You want to know as soon as you’re infected in order to be responsible (not infect others) and to begin treatment as quickly as possible.

The Abbott self-test works for returning to the U.S. if taken the day prior to departure using their ‘guided’ feature in the Navica app. Sometimes wait times for an agent are long – in that case, select a Spanish-speaking agent, since those agents seem to speak English as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. My understanding is that although the Omicron strain is fast spreading, it causes mild symptoms when contracted, and not a severe disease like the Delta, especially among the vaccinated.

    We are not postponing or canceling our travel plans …

  2. Time to boycott the Medical-Industrial Complex unless all travel and other restrictions are lifted.

  3. lol, the first 2 doses were so underwhelming that now you need a 3rd. Israelis will need a 4th. When does this end? Upon death?

    Would be curious to know now many people with Omnicron are unvaxxed. Will anyone ask?

  4. It’s a bit cavalier to write this op-ed. As you may be willing to take risks, others on the fence may be convinced to as well.

    But there is a very real threat that the more contagious omicron varient will result in travelers testing positive on their vacation. And then they would be forced to quarantine for the duration of their trip, or not be allowed to board for their flight home. Which can put the traveler (and their entire party) at greater cost/expenses, or even loss of income because they can’t get back to work.

  5. @Too Many – that’s literally the risk I flag and the reason I tell some people they may consider delaying travel – not because of the risk to themselves of Omicron but the risk they can’t return home as planned.

    “if you want a good reason not to travel internationally it’s that an infection will freeze you in place. You may be ‘fine’ but you won’t be able to travel. So you could be stuck outside the country longer than planned. You need to be prepared for that contingency if you’re intending international travel.”

  6. Responding to Too Many:
    Gary explicitly mentions that for international travel, it may be a consideration. That should not be an issue for domestic travel as we still do not require passengers to be vaccinated to get onto an airplane.

  7. @ Gary — The World Health Organization surely knows more than you on this subject. I mean, I am not delaying my travels because of Omicron even though I’m obese and have asthma,. However, that may not be the best advice for everyone.

  8. @Gene – I lead with the World Health Organization’s advice, though I do not think they have performed well in the pandemic for a variety of reasons and their advice is largely tailored to countries without access to robust vaccine supply or treatments.

  9. The author of this blog has no credential in the health sciences. The author of the blog is an economics graduate of CSU Fresno. It has an acceptance rate higher than 90%. Think about how bad of a student you have to be to even consider going to a college in the desert that ranks 196th place, and think about how more than 90% of those students get in. It’s an achievement for this blog post to spell omicron correctly.

    There is no way to get legitimate health safety advice from a credit card affiliate marketing funded blog.

  10. @Austinite – where I went to school over a quarter century ago doesn’t have much bearing on anything but for what it’s worth I graduated summa cum laude and as the standard bearer for the school of social sciences, and that’s also not where i started. I was accepted everywhere I applied, and I went to UCLA. I left UCLA after my freshman year when my debate partner was killed in a van accident on the way back from a tournament.

    If you think anything I’ve written here is mistaken, and by the way I’m citing among others a Harvard epidemiologist and other experts in the field, please tell me exactly what you think that is.

  11. Good Lord, Gary, you have some whiners on here. I’m over 70 and have imminent trips planned that I have every intention of taking. This thing is now endemic. Live your lives people.

  12. I don’t think any of the whiners are required to read this blog. If people don’t like Gary’s take on things, there are plenty of other blogs. Or just ignore the articles you don’t like and save us the whining.

    Being fully vaccinated and boostered and also taking responsible precautions, I feel it is highly unlikely I get COVID and if I do it is even more unlikely to be a serious case. I intend to travel. It is the regime uncertain that is the main concern, though. There are times I can’t afford to be stranded by ever changing regulations.

  13. I have booked another domestic trip yesterday and are not planning on cancelling.
    However, I will not be packing a rapid test unless traveling internationally.

  14. @ Gary — “where I went to school over a quarter century ago doesn’t have much bearing on anything”. Couldn’t agree more. No one cares about that after you are about age 30, or at least they shouldn’t.

  15. It’s not about the virus. That will never go away. It’s about the politicians putting up restrictions that could leave you stranded someplace.

  16. This is getting into dangerous zone. You cannot possibly be giving out medical advices in a darn travel blog.

  17. Breaking new study.

    Research by Alex…I can’t take credit…..

    German physician-scientists reported Monday that not a single healthy child between the ages of 5 and 18 died of Covid in Germany in the first 15 months of the epidemic.

    Not one.

    Even including children and adolescents with preexisting conditions, only six in that age range died, the researchers found. Germany is Europe’s largest country, with more than 80 million people, including about 10 million school-age children and adolescents.

    Serious illness was also extremely rare. The odds that a healthy child aged 5-11 would require intensive care for Covid were about 1 in 50,000, the researchers found. For older and younger children, the odds were somewhat higher, about 1 in 8,000.

    Another eight infants and toddlers died, including five with preexisting conditions. In all, 14 Germans under 18 died of Covid, about one per month. About 1.5 million German children or adolescents were infected with Sars-Cov-2 between March 2020 and May 2021, the researchers found.

    “Overall, the SARS-CoV-2-associated burden of a severe disease course or death in children and adolescents is low,” the researchers reported. “This seems particularly the case for 5-11-year-old children without comorbidities.”

    The researchers reported their findings in an 18-page paper published to the medrxiv preprint server on Monday.

    The data came from a registry Germany established in March 2020 intended to capture all hospitalizations of people under 18 with Covid. All German children’s hospitals, pediatric infectious disease specialists, and pediatric societies were invited to participate.

  18. The last paragraph on the Abbott test and Navica app was very helpful. It makes the new testing requirements manageable.

  19. @Gene – but anyone in their first couple years out of school needs to put a GPA on their resume. Literally every time it’s been left off I’ve assumed 2.5 and I’ve never been wrong within a tenth of a point.

  20. It’s a virus. It’s bad. It’s a pandemic. Let me say again…it’s bad. Get your vax and get your booster.
    Be thankful you live in 2021 and not 1821.

    We could get out of this folks. Then, we can all go back to arguing about important things…like who has the better lounges…Delta or United!

  21. @Gary/John, the issue I have with this post is specifically all the reasons you say are okay to travel. However the biggest reason not to travel is being stuck in a location that can create many problems for those impacted.

    It would be better served by changing the title to indicate the risk foremost and what can be done about it. Then disclose / highlight the risk first in your post to indicate that should be treated as a real threat (and not just your own health), instead of trying to justify why it’s safe to travel as the main thrust of the story.

    It’s a matter of perception: whether you’re pushing more for an agenda to continue traveling or more concerned about the safety of your readers.

    It’s your blog, you can write as you wish, but readers will interpret what and where you stand on things based on what you prioritize (as another commenter mentioned your interest is aligned to continue travel without regard to other risks or factors)

  22. Declaring that you have answers on the vaccines’ response to this variant is the most irresponsible thing I have ever read on this blog. You may turn out to be right. I sincerely hope so. But it is a guess, and it is frankly no better than an antibacterial who claims to have done his own research. It is appalling. Wait a week to write this, Gary. You are simply wishcasting in an environment where there is an answer that you hope is the right one. If Hannahe’s guess turns out to be wrong — and make no mistake it is a guess, albeit an educated one — I hope you would apologize to those you are trying to convince who should probably wait for the science instead of your guessing.

  23. Stop writing about travel and credit cards. Write about how we should all stay locked in our homes for months never going outside. thats the only way to beat the 98% survival rate of covid

  24. “The World Health Organization recommends those over 60 or with comorbidities postpone travel due to the Omicron variant of the virus.” Over 60 – check . Asthma – check. But what is screwing up our travel is countries slamming the doors, like Japan, and Omicron’s affinity for infecting the double vaccinated. Who cares if Omicron causes mild illness – a positive test will lock you out of a ship, a hotel, a country or reentry into the US and cost you plenty. As positive cases run up, ships cancel ports or cruises – you buy one cruise and get switched to another. that is significantly different. Planning travel these days is a big gamble with little payout.

  25. Austinite – So Fresno is now in the desert? Last I heard a desert had under 10 inches a year of rainfall and Fresno gets 12+. inches. Where exactly did you get your Geography Degree – at that second rate school in Austin? You should have gone to A&M to better yourself!

  26. DaninMCI nailed it.

    Gary you should be focusing on the travel restrictions not the medical analysis. Let everyone decide for themselves if they want to stay in self confinement or live free with some level of risk.

    But the elephant in the room (since March 2020) has been the instant closure of borders (see eg Israel) and oppressive quarantine mandates (eg Canada). Most of us are reluctant to pay for air and hotel travel that may be cancelled on the whim of some misguided politician or bureaucrat. People require some level of certainty and that remains in short supply.

  27. I don’t see any issue with WHO’s recommendation. If you are over 60 (which is the minority of the population), then you are certainly at much higher risk of dying / getting seriously ill from COVID and probably want to take some precaution. The majority of the people including myself do not fall under the group, and at this time I don’t see any reason to change my travel plans. In fact, the majority of the countries have been handling COVID better and are safer than the US.

  28. Very glad that Japan continues to keep its doors closed to the Gary Leffs of the world.

  29. Oh, Gary. Gary, Gary, Gary.

    Nothing in this post is “mistaken” because the post is opinion. To quote the legal disclaimer on this website, it’s “for entertainment purpose only.” When somebody writes “X could imply Y,” that’s unfalsifiable. An unfalsifiable claim is unscientific. An unfalsifiable claim doesn’t imply the claimant has offered something profound.

    Astute audiences respect the opinions of certain speakers — those with relevant credentials. Gary has no relevant credentials. Gary did not refute this point (because it’s irrefutable; not unfalsifiable, irrefutable). I made this claim writ large in my first comment. My dig at CSU Fresno was intended to imply that Gary lacks the intellect necessary for somebody with no credentials to be taken seriously on the chance they might express a profound revelation.

    That’s actually a weak claim because while the average CSU Fresno student is indeed dumb as bricks, the school enrolls a range of students and at the right tail of the distribution, students are anywhere from quite to very smart. Gary could have said that instead of bringing up his own Latin honors and whatnot, but Gary chose to be conceited. Oh well. Self-confidence, one may argue, is a good thing.

    Gary, bizarrely, makes reference to a tragic event. As a human being, I was immediately sorry to hear of the loss. Yet, debate (logic) demands a separation of emotional vs. rational minds. To make reference to this loss, in this context of the present discussion, is a non sequitur. It could also be ared herring. It is simply not relevant.

    Gary furthermore says that fresh college grads should write their GPA on their resume lest they be mistaken for 2.4-2.6 GPA dunces. Well, that may be true in Gary’s line of work, but it’s absolutely not true in others. I have never written my GPA on my resume. I earned a 3.6 GPA which sounds OK except for the fact I went to a US News Top 10 school that has grade inflation and I should have earned close to a 4.0. But, whatever — no employer has ever asked for my GPA. Different industries are different. Gary should not be making such broad brush claims. Gary should not be making any statements of health safety either as I and other commenters have expressed, it’s completely irresponsible.

  30. The only thing keeping me from international travel right now is the stupidity of the 1 day test requirement to return.

    I bet the fools who came up with this haven’t tried to get tested and results in 1 day outside the US.

  31. @Austinite

    Your education has certainly allowed you a degree of mastery of the bold and italic tags not often seen in these comments. That being said, in the real world I’m not particularly likely to trust someone or do business with them just because they went to a “top ten” school. From what I’ve seen, about a third of the students at such schools are dimwitted rich kids, a third are dimwitted affirmative action admits, and a third are actually really talented, although it can be tricky to figure out which group a particular individual belongs to. In other words, the talent distributions for U.S. universities tend to have heavy overlap, even if the medians are far apart.

    I’m interested in hearing Gary’s opinions, and will judge them on their merits rather than rejecting them because he’s not an “expert.” Experts routinely overestimate their own expertise and don’t have a particularly solid track record of accurately predicting outcomes in unusual situations, so it’s better to keep an open mind.

  32. @Jojo

    Jojo says:
    December 2, 2021 at 6:56 pm

    Stop writing about travel and credit cards. Write about how we should all stay locked in our homes for months never going outside. thats the only way to beat the 98% survival rate of covid

    But but but MUH SCIENCE!

  33. What business is going to send people abroad when they could potentially be trapped away 10+ days. What’s the cost of food and lodging for an additional 10 days?

  34. @Austinite frankly if anything my experience dealing with people graduating from universities with supposedly stellar reputations is that they lack meaningful connection with reality and assume that because they have a great academic record, they’re competent enough both to have opinions on a wide variety of issues but also to use credentialism as a weapon in debates.

    Candidly, you sound like an asshole, and I don’t need an Ivy League degree to detect that.

  35. @ Jon

    Frankly if anything my experience dealing with people who have not graduated from universities with supposedly stellar reputations is that some of them can harbour a serious chip on their shoulder.

    The irony, is that such folk over compensate by failing to listen and consider the alternative opinion.

    Candidly, you sound like one of those folk, and I don’t need to apply my Ivy League (more accurately Oxbridge) degree to detect that.

    Gary’s educational background in economics (no matter the university) evidently empowers an interesting perspective on matters travel and frequent flyer. It can create a point of difference to other travel blogs. It can encourage asking questions, for example, about the economics of an airline running an award seat only flight (see companion article).

    BUT Gary’s opinion on matters COVID are not well informed from the perspective of somebody who has spent countless years studying science/ medicine and may also have direct experience working in a front line role. Some of these folk have repeatedly called him out on his blog.

    IME certain universities (maybe even ones you might term stellar) have exceptional resources, tutors, research groups, industry links, very high academic standards for entry (rather than parent’s cash). Those students who happen to flourish in such environments can end up with an enormous advantage.

    Some of the biggest leaps in science and technology are made by those who you might claim to lack “meaningful connection with reality”.

    A prescient university will scoop up those of the highest potential, foster the Alan Turings, John Nashs and John Von Neumanns of this world so we end up with computers, game theory, cellular automata and atomic research.

    You perceive arrogant arsehole – whereas the other person is just sick and tired of heaving to deal with folk with the lessor intelligence, education, and experience.

  36. While the rest of you are arguing about whether Gary thinks he’s a doctor. Or, acting like one. Or, who went to which university that’s better than the school the other person went to…and my GPA is bigger than yours. Or…uh…whatever…who cares…

    …my thought is Gary is laughing like hell…because he’s got us all reacting and posting to an article he wrote.

    And that my friends…IS genius!

  37. @ Larry C

    @ Austinite’s statement was that Gary lacks credentials in the health sciences. No information has been offered by Gary to refute this statement.

    A simple reality check. You don’t get to become a medical doctor unless you spend years (generally 5 or more) at university / medical school. You don’t get to become a research scientist until you have done at least a first degree (bachelors for 3 or more years), in some cases additional an honours year, and then a masters degree (two or more years) and finally an academic doctorate (PhD for 3 or more years), usually followed by a post doc placement.

    The knowledge and experience you gain through that system is not idly gained and highly likely to make you much better informed and most significantly, better able to collate and interpret the data, make critical analyses, than somebody who has zero tertiary study in a relevant field.

    Whereas there is some potential overlap in some areas of bioscience and economics (for example, application of optimisation and game theory in behavioural analyses) a student of economics is simply not on the same page when debating medical / science with a student of the latter.

    You are highly unlikely to accrue the knowledge and skills of science going about your business writing a travel blog.

    Unless you are of the most exceptional intellectual calibre (I’m talking he freakish mind of folk like John Von Neumann), you are are unlikely to make up any ground by cranial firepower.

    @ Austinite carefully distinguished between the concepts of irrefutable and unfalsifiable. This is a reference to the core of the scientific method and the application of falsifiable hypotheses in the scientific method. Unless you have “get” this stuff, comprehend its strengths and weaknesses, you simply cannot understand the fundamentals of science. You’re not even the same page to start a debate let alone equipped to embark on a commentary.

    The issue here is not actually whether you would trust or do business with someone from a top ten school, rather the application of somebody’s education, experience and intellect to the task of presenting informed opinion on COVID, with the potential to guide readers’ decisions with potentially significant impacts on their daily lives and those of others.

    You have (perhaps simplistically and frivolously) classified students into three groups and then (ironically) suggest you find it hard to assign individuals to group. IME the smart ones are generally easy to pick, regardless of school, top ten or otherwise. Certainly, yes, the school is no guarantee – there are dumbos in good schools and gifted / determined individuals in lower ranked schools.

    A gentle reminder that the university systems in some countries differ from the US system and can better rely on academic potential and performance in student selection rather than Dad and Mom’s bank balance.

    Science can be misunderstood. The irony is that a competent scientist has an open mind and wants and expects their ideas to be challenged, the theory to evolve, the models to be refined, the applications to progress. But this is possible because of the commonly accepted rules of engagement in the debate (in simple terms applying the scientific method in all of its glory and rough edges).

    Opinions and ideas are the fuel of this method. They are welcomed and embraced. But they are also assessed and analysed by an accepted regimen and a rationale approach. In other words, there is a protocol to determine what is meant by “merits” within the aegis of the scientific world.

    Of course experts can be wrong. But the methods are in place to challenge their theories and replace them with a model with a better fit.

    Gary’s “opinion” pieces on COVID offer highly selective presentation of snippets of information with highly personalised interpretation. A scientific argument that does not make. There are simple logical flaws, which would not pass muster in a first year student essay in a science course at any competent university. Many readers may assess “merit” from their personal perspective rather than from the methods of science.

    The core travel articles, with or without the economics angle, are otherwise generally great.

  38. “Brian Eckstein says:
    December 2, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    lol, the first 2 doses were so underwhelming that now you need a 3rd. Israelis will need a 4th. When does this end? Upon death?”

    That is their plan. Either the “vaccines” kill you or Big Pharma at least have you a as a customer for the rest of your (shortened) life since your immune system is destroyed and your cellular DNA repair mechanisms are also destroyed. Game, set, and match.


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