The discovery of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus triggered a flurry of new travel restrictions worldwide—as well as a lot of anxiety among travelers due to how this development could impact their upcoming plans.

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Omicron variant as one of concern on November 26, after scientists in South Africa alerted the organization to a variant with a large number of mutations. As scientists work to figure out the implications for public health, governments worldwide scrambled to implement restrictions to limit its the spread.

Where has the Omicron variant been detected? Should I cancel my trip there?

Though first identified by scientists in South Africa on November 24, the virus has been found in countries around the world. Austria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States have all reported cases. 

There's still a lot we don't know about this variant so simply detecting a case doesn’t tell us a lot. It doesn't mean these are the only countries with the variant—nor does it indicate that country is a particular hotspot for the new variant. These are just the areas that have identified a case so far. 

This is why South African Prime Minister Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the move by countries to put restrictions on South Africa and neighboring countries. 

"These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant," Ramaphosa said on Twitter.

There's one constant in this pandemic—things move swiftly. Unless you're traveling immediately to a country that has closed its borders completely or one that your home country has placed restrictions on, take time to monitor the situation before making a final decision to adjust your plans. 

What countries have closed borders due to Omicron?

Israel, Japan and Morocco responded to the Omicron variant by closing borders. 

Effective midnight November 30, Japan is suspending the entry of any non-resident foreign national. Those who are permitted in the country must quarantine at home, a private residence, or in a hotel for 14 days subject to approval by the Government of Japan. Travelers arriving from certain countries in southern Africa must quarantine in a government facility for 10 days. 

Israel has temporarily restricted travel by foreign nationals for 14 days unless granted a special entry permit by the exceptions committee.

Morocco also suspended all passenger flights for a period of two weeks starting November 29. 

Australia, which was scheduled to slowly reopen starting December 1, pushed back plans to allow in some eligible visa holders and vaccinated travelers from Korea and Japan until December 15. 

What countries have implemented country-specific bans?

A host of countries have implemented country-specific bans, primarily on countries located in southern Africa. 

Countries that have announced restrictions on travelers from certain African countries include Canada, the United States, some members of the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, Seychelles, Brazil, and Guatemala. As these change rapidly and differ in which countries are included, make sure to check specifically with your destination for specific information on which countries are impacted. 

Read more: Countries with Omicron COVID-19 variant travel restrictions

UK, Ireland and USA add stricter testing requirements

 The United Kingdom announced that every passenger age five and older arriving into the UK from another country (apart from the Republic of Ireland) will need to take a PCR test within 48-hours of arrival and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. 

Read more: UK introduces new Omicron testing rules

Ireland announced it would institute pre-arrival testing for every passenger arriving in the country.  Vaccinated travelers can choose a PCR or antigen test. Unvaccinated travelers must take a PCR test. 

A health care worker takes a COVID-19 testing swab from a female patient.
More countries are implementing COVID-19 travel testing rules © microgen/Getty Images

The United States also announced that it would now require all travelers—even those who are vaccinated—to present a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 24 hours prior to departure to the United States. 

Read More: The United States is tightening COVID-19 testing requirements - here's what to know

How should I prepare to travel if I'm traveling soon?

With so much unknown about the Omicron variant, there's a lot you can't really control right now. However, there are a few things you can do to make sure you're prepared should plans change. 

Monitor the situation at your destination. Make sure you're up to date not just on travel restrictions but how the pandemic is impacting the country in general. Are places you'd like to visit open? If you got sick or injured, would you be an increase burden on the destination's health care system?

(If you’re a United States citizen, consider registering your trip with the US Department of State’s STEP program so you can receive travel advisories about your destination.)

Research where to get COVID-19 testing in advance. With more countries requiring a negative test for entry, make sure you know where you're going to get tested. Find out if you need an appointment in advance and don't forget to ask about the cost as well as how quickly the results can be turned around. 

Check the cancellation policies for your reservations. If you're waiting to make a decision about your trip, take a few moments to check the cancellation policy on your reservations. Consider putting a calendar alert in your phone for the deadline to cancel so you lose out on your opportunity to cancel without penalty. 

Read your travel insurance policy. Make sure you understand what your travel insurance covers. Coverage for trip interruption or delay as well as coverage specifically for COVID-19 medical visits and quarantine could prove especially helpful if the variant impacted your plans.

For more information on COVID-19 and travel, check out Lonely Planet's Health Hub.

You may also like: 
PCR tests for travel: What you need to know
Why you may need a COVID-19 booster to visit Europe next year
How to apply for France's Health Pass

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