WASHINGTON, D.C. — There is a race to understand the health impact and limit the impact of the latest COVID-19 variant, designated as B.1.1.529 or omicron.
The variant, which was first detected in South Africa, has been identified in Europe, the U.S. and other countries and is expected to spread further in the coming months.
Much is still unknown about omicron, but it has been confirmed that previous COVID infection does not provide immunity. It has been reported that doctors in South Africa have observed that while the omicron variant appears more transmissible than other strains, it presents mild symptoms in patients — unlike the delta variant.
A new advisory by the World Health Organization has been implemented, urging people at risk of developing severe illness or 60 years and older to get a booster shot and avoid high-risk behavior such as traveling to COVID hot spots. Of course, calls for the unvaccinated to be inoculated have hit a heightened pitch..
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In response to the omicron discovery and the developing science around it, the Biden Administration is tightening coronavirus testing requirements and screening for international travelers arriving in the U.S. Travelers will be expected to provide a negative test result from a test taken within 24 hours before they depart. Previously, the U.S. required proof of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of departure. Biden has also extended the mask requirement on all domestic flights and public transportation through March 18.
The situation is already having an impact on business travel and events. The Netherlands is in partial lockdown, as are other European countries including Germany and Austria.
The European Exhibition Industry Alliance has reacted by calling for a coordinated approach to intra-EU travel and travel from outside the EU. An EEIA position paper has been crafted calling for a coordinated approach to swiftly adapt the EU Digital COVID Certificate’s validity and to adopt the unified EU Digital Passenger Locator Form.
Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, said she has been “heartened” by the measured response of the Biden Administration, which will allow business events to continue.
“The business events industry needs to remain both focused and flexible — with a laser focus on the changing needs of clients and the readiness to change plans if required,” Bauer said. “We’re a resilient sector and I’m confident that the business momentum generated by recent industry events have paved the way for significant business recovery.”
Sherrif Karamat, CAE, PCMA President & CEO, stated that Convening Leaders 2022 is a go in Las Vegas in January, and that all in-person participants will be required to be vaccinated.
“While the world awaits further details about the omicron variant, I encourage the business events industry to remain vigilant as we continue to safely deliver engaging experiences that drive commerce, foster community, and equip us with the latest knowledge to advance economies and social good,” Karamat said. “Volatility around this virus is expected and will continue, thus we cannot lose sight of the importance of being safe — wearing a mask, being vaccinated — and listening to the facts delivered by medical experts so we can continue to run our businesses effectively.”