WHO advises against international travel for those over the age of 60 due to Omicron

TORONTO — In light of the new variant Omicron emerging, the World Heath Organization (WHO) has put out new advice regarding international travel, including that those over the age of 60 years old should refrain from travelling.

The organization put out an advisory on Tuesday listing ways that countries and individuals can attempt to stay safe and minimize the risk posed by Omicron.

One of the main points was that people who are at a higher risk of developing severe disease if they contract COVID-19 — people who are sick, immunocompromised, have comorbities such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, or people who are over the age of 60 — “should be advised to postpone travel.”

Scientists in South Africa identified a new version of the novel coronavirus last week, which was quickly labelled a variant of concern and dubbed Omicron. Although not much is known about Omicron at this stage, the new variant seems to have a high number of mutations that make it different from other variants, raising concerns that it could prove to be more transmissible, or able to reinfect those who had COVID-19 previously.

The identification of a new variant has led to a number of countries, including Canada, to announce temporary travel bans and other health measures intended to stop the variant from spreading. However, several cases of Omicron have been detected in more than one Canadian province so far.

WHO stated in their advisory Tuesday that countries should “continue to apply an evidence-informed and risk-based approach when implementing travel measures,” adding that “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread.”

They advised that countries could implement a “multi-layered risk mitigation approach” for international travel, such as screening passengers with tests or requiring quarantine.

During an update on Tuesday, the federal government announced that Canada will be imposing new testing requirements on air travellers coming from outside of Canada. All will be required to get tested at the airport upon their arrival in Canada, with the exception of travellers from the U.S.

Travel for essential reasons, such as humanitarian missions and emergency personnel or cargo transport of essential supplies, should still continue, WHO said.

“In addition, all travellers should be reminded to remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, to get vaccinated when it is their turn and to adhere to public health and social measures at all times and regardless of vaccination status, including by using masks appropriately, respecting physical distancing, following good respiratory etiquette and avoiding crowded and poorly ventilated spaces,” the advisory stated.

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