Travelling with a shape-shifter

India’s Omicron case tally on Sunday witnessed a significant jump overnight, as much as five times, after nine people in Rajasthan, seven in Pune, and one person in New Delhi tested positive for the new variant.
Representative image
Representative image

New Delhi

The count had shot up from four cases on Saturday to 21 cases on Sunday, which has caused a flutter among stakeholders in the healthcare space, as well as the general public, who are now apprehensive about the transmissibility of this variant. 
The timing of the discovery of the variant is quite telling — bang in the run-up to the Christmas and New Year holiday season, when people the world over have planned mini-vacations and weekend getaways.
The global travel industry is now waiting with bated breath as governments implement travel restrictions in varying degrees, a decision that is bound to affect the industry in significant ways. 
On the passenger front, there obviously is a sense of discontent, as the quantum of health checks will see an uptick. 
Travelers in India headed to destinations like Dubai, now have to arrive at the airport much in advance, as apart from RT-PCR checks which need to be done two days in advance, rapid PCR tests are also being done at the airports before take-off. Upon landing, passengers will once again have to undergo PCR tests.
While the mandates of point to point testing might not be a deterrent for pandemic-weary travelers, there are concerns pertaining to the unpredictability of rules vis-a-vis respective nations. For instance, Japan has banned incoming international flights, in the backdrop of the Omicron scare. 
Interestingly, Japan had modeled itself as an emulation-worthy nation, when it went ahead and conducted the Tokyo Olympics a few months ago, despite not having achieved 100 percent vaccination for its citizens.
Similarly, Israel, a melting pot of religions and cultures, thanks to the intersection of sites relevant to Christianity, Islam and Judaism is also under strict self-imposed quarantine from the rest of the world. The tourist-heavy season of Christmas which sees hordes of devouts thronging Bethlehem will be conspicuous by the absence of international arrivals. 
Morocco has also banned all international flights for now. While the impact might seem minimal, it takes little to unseat most travelers from their complacency, especially at a time when a new variant is spreading rapidly.
With nations in the EU also reporting instances of the Omicron variant, while witnessing a rise in COVID cases, like in Germany, travel agents in India have witnessed a dip in both enquiries as well as holiday itineraries to Europe and the UK. 
For Indian operators in the travel business, the uncertainty is detrimental on many levels. Having been dormant for the better part of the year since 2020, the industry had gradually begun getting back on its feet, thanks to relaxations from the Centre regarding avenues of public convergence, as well as the removal of restrictions at domestic airports, leading to a surge in local tourism.
Until 2020, the leisure travel industry was associated with the notion of laidback vacations based on one’s convenience that was bereft of anxiety-inducing tests and quarantining. Obviously, COVID has thrown all such ideas right out the window. 
Singapore’s health minister had recently remarked that the discovery of the new variant and the prevailing situation is the equivalent of a game of snakes and ladders when one misstep could set us back by many months of hard work of containing the virus.
Analysts have opined that even if the entire sector made a concentrated effort to bring back tourists and travelers to the shores of various nations, it would take the better part of two to three years for recovery to touch businesses of pre-COVID times. 
For the travel industry, this might signal yet another season of wait and watch as the operators find themselves in the throes of a shape-shifting threat, whose endgame is nowhere in sight.

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