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The new Covid variant is an enormous setback for an industry that seemingly can't catch a break, and it kills any chance of a complete recovery soon — especially as 98 percent of destinations worldwide still have some sort of travel restrictions.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization is calling on countries worldwide to make immediate, uniform decisions regarding restrictions linked to a new Covid variant first detected in southern Africa that has nations rushing to impose travel bans as well as sent financial markets into a tailspin.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said on Friday that while countries have to follow World Health Organization recommendations in forming travel rules and consistent safety and hygiene protocols, he said time is of the essence in combating the new variant.

“My recommendation will be to (make) decisions today, not after one week, because if it continues to spread as we are expecting then it will be late and will make no sense to apply restrictions,” Pololikashvili said.

Numerous travel-related stocks took a beating on Friday, with United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines each down seven percent in premarket trading. Hotel giants Marriott International and Hilton fell more than five percent.

As the UNTWO sounded the alarm Friday, fears of the variant sparked new travel restrictions. The United Kingdom, Singapore, Israel and members of the European Union all announced they are banning flights from South Africa and neighboring countries while Japan is requiring a 10-day quarantine for visitors from the region starting on November 27.

Doctor Susan Hopkins, the chief medical advisor to the UK Health and Security Agency, described as the variant as the worst it’s seen while numerous scientists have expressed concerned that its high number of mutations could make it more transmissible.

Meanwhile, Pololikashvili also pushed for Europe to take the lead in introducing a consistent policy as he said the continent — the most visited worldwide — was the most prepared in regards to sanitary infrastructure. He cited the European Union’s Covid green pass as an successful example of a joint policy.

The recently released UNWTO Travel Restrictions Report reveals that 98 percent of all destinations still have some sort of travel curbs in place while roughly one in five — 46 destinations — currently have closed their borders completely to tourists. Only four destinations thus far — Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico — have completely removed all Covid-related restrictions.

UPDATED: This story was updated to include information about financial markets in addition to the European Union and Japan imposing further travel restrictions as well as scientists’ concerns about the variant being more transmissible.

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Tags: covid-19, omicron variant, united nations

Photo credit: Travelers at an airport in Greece. Mark Hodson Photos / Wikimedia Commons

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