Like Cher, it feels like Omicron has turned back time. No Djok? Mi-flurona? Weren't your holiday experiences impacted? While the pandemic has been challenging all along, the last few weeks seem to have taken things to an all-time high, and Omicrom is proving to be about twice as contagious as Delta. In fact, the number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 has surpassed last winter's peak. Adding more than one million cases in a day, the U.S. set a new global record. In fact, many locations have been setting new daily high infection records across the globe (think Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Israel, the Philippines, Turkey, Europe in general and on and on).
Per Bloomberg, "The highly mutated variant, combined with delayed reporting by local governments over the holidays, led to a single-day record for new cases for any country in the world." Remember, that does not even take into account all those positive "at home antigen" tests that are being used and that are in such high demand. (By the way, looking for some good info on those at home test kits? Try this.) Were "flurona" to get added to the mix, the potential amount of extra pressure on health care systems has many very worried.
Let's look around and see what is happening worldwide and consider how that might impact your global mobility programs:
- China: The first city put into a lockdown on Dec.23 was Xi'an, a city of 13 million. Then, Yuzhou followed where all residents were told to remain indoors, with only those involved in containing the disease allowed to leave, per the BBC. China's "dynamic zero Covid" strategy combines mass vaccination with a regime of constant testing, nationwide monitoring of people's movements, temperature-taking and phone apps to prove you don't pose a threat. Up until a few weeks ago, the government had managed to contain it to such a level that new cases were negligible and mainly coming from people arriving from abroad. Now, the northern Chinese city of Tianjin has tightened exit controls and is requiring residents to obtain approval from employers or community authorities before leaving town, in an effort to block the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. This is all happening as China prepares to host the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing from Feb. 4 through Feb. 20.
- Germany: The country has tightened its entry and quarantine requirements for all travelers. Per Forbes, every traveler must fill out a Digital Registration Form and there is testing taking place upon arrival. Fully vaccinated travelers from anywhere can enter Germany, as can those who have had COVID-19, children under 12, anyone in transit and anyone who is a resident in the EU/Schengen area. For most other situations, there is a travel ban currently in place where there must be an urgent need to travel. Individuals who have been in or traveled through a high-risk area must quarantine for 10 days, and those who have traveled through a virus variant area must quarantine for 14 days.
- France: Per Erickson Immigration Group (EIG), the French government announced new restrictions to go into effect starting this month. France will shorten the validity window of the vaccination certificate. As a result, to be fully vaccinated, individuals must have received a booster shot three months after their last dose. Head here to see further requirements on what to expect to enter France and get details for color country codes (green, amber, red, scarlet). The city of Paris, the current center of the latest wave of infections, has re-imposed an outdoor mask mandate. No end date for the measure was given. As of Dec. 4, anyone arriving from the EU/Schengen area only needs to take a test if they are not vaccinated (taken up to 24 hours before arrival). However, everyone must now test if they arrive from outside the EU+ bloc, even if they are vaccinated. These tests must be PCR (some antigen tests are allowed) and taken no more than 48 hours before arrival.
- United Kingdom: The UK government is relaxing travel restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals arriving in the UK. The new rules include the removal of pre-departure tests and the use of lateral flow tests following arrival in the country and will not apply to those unvaccinated. This means that within 48 hours of arrival, everyone age 5 and over (11 and over in Scotland) must take a lateral flow test (LFT), or a more expensive PCR test. Vaccinated travelers also have to fill in and submit an online passenger locator form no more than 48 hours before arriving, even if they are just passing through the UK.
- Portugal: Good news seen here, where despite a surge in infections, COVID-19 deaths have not risen much at all given that Portugal is one of the most vaccinated countries (almost 90% of people are vaccinated). Data from Johns Hopkins shows that countries with the highest percentage of vaccinations are faring much much better in the fight against COVID-19.
- Taiwan: Just last week, Taiwan increased testing requirements for inbound international travelers. International travelers must have proof of a negative PCR test taken within two days of departure. Taiwan also has rolled out digital vaccine certificates that are recognized by 60 countries, including the U.S. and EU member states.
- The Philippines: The Philippines ordered a strict lockdown of the unvaccinated amid a surge in cases. A third straight day of record cases (per Reuters, 33,169 new coronavirus infections on Jan. 10) has caused commercial airlines to cancel hundreds of flights, closed schools, banks and malls, and has the government worried that the healthcare system is at risk of being overwhelmed.
- India: With approximately half of India's people vaccinated, fresh curbs have been imposed in various parts of the country to check the spread of the highly transmissible virus. The country is pushing for increased vaccinations but is also beefing up health infrastructure to address the increasing surge. In Delhi, all private offices, restaurants and bars are closed except for home delivery or takeout. Additional concern is being sparked as a million people are set to gather at the bank of the Ganges River for a holy bath this Friday and Saturday. Per Forbes, the Indian government issued the latest advisory guidance for international travel to India that mandates all travelers to undergo home quarantine for seven days and undertake an RT-PCR test on the 8th day of arrival in India.
- Canada: The U.S. has Canada now listed as a Level 4 location as it reaches it's highest weekly total since the start of the pandemic. Per CNN, the CDC places a destination at Level 4 when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered in the past 28 days. The CDC advises travelers to avoid travel to Level 4 countries. On Dec. 15, Canada issued an advisory to its citizens asking that they avoid all nonessential international travel. Most international visitors to Canada are required to be vaccinated and to have a negative COVID-19 test result.
- United States: Hospitalizations across the U.S. have reached a record high. There is so much to keep track of across the 50 states and territories. Maryland declared a 30-day state of emergency last week and has deployed the National Guard to support in hospitals. With long lines at testing sites the new norm, Los Angeles set a new daily record with 45,000 cases. The Omicron wave in New York looks worse than the one in England. Next week some at-risk Americans will be eligible for a fourth dose of vaccine, and beginning Jan. 15, Americans will get up to eight tests covered per month, as well as an unlimited number of tests covered if ordered or administered by a doctor or nurse. The U.S. State Department is advising applicants to apply at least four to six months before planned travel to get passport updates. According to BAL, even expedited services can take up to seven weeks from the day an application is submitted to the day the applicant receives the new passport. More than 80 destinations were rated Level 4 as of Jan. 10. You can view the CDC's risk levels for global destinations on its travel recommendations page.
For some additional resources for monitoring changing rules globally, here are a few high quality links to some friends of Plus who also spend a lot of time tracking the ever-changing travel and immigration scene:
Envoy Global: Check out their resource center to help companies and their employees navigate immigration and travel implications from the COVID-19 outbreak.
Erickson Immigration Group: Tap into their easy-to-use global map to learn more on how COVID-19 is impacting global immigration, mobility and travel.
Fragomen: On Jan. 10, Fragomen made updates to information for: Angola, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Hong Kong SAR, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Myanmar, Oman, Russia, Rwanda, Taiwan and Zambia.
Newland Chase: If you are looking for entry restrictions, you can visit their award-winning Entry Guide for specific information. You will find the Entry Guide to be an up-to-date and authoritative source for all travel-related questions.
China has put a second city into total lockdown after just three asymptomatic Covid cases were discovered. Yuzhou - which has a population of 1.1 million - saw its transport system shut down and all but essential food stores closed overnight. It follows a similar lockdown in Xi'an, where 13 million have been confined to their homes since 23 December. The strict measures come ahead of the Lunar New Year and the Winter Olympics due to be held in Beijing. With exactly a month to go until the Games start, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin assured reporters China had "formulated an efficient and highly effective defence system".