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White House, CDC Monitoring Omicron Variant As Holiday Travel Is Expected To Increase

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The TSA says that Christmas travel is expected to be the busiest travel season since the start of the pandemic.

It comes after a busy Thanksgiving travel season. On Sunday, the TSA screened almost 2.5 million people.

With the emergence of the Omicron variant, domestic travel won't be an issue but it's travel overseas that could see changes.

"The demand is really there for travel. People are doing what they can to travel," said Lindley Dieck, a travel agent with Greater Pittsburgh Travel.

The United States has banned foreign travel into the country from South Africa, where the Omicron variant was originally discovered as well as several neighboring countries.

Several countries like Japan have already suspended international flights or temporarily banned travelers from high-risk countries.

Now the United States is looking to take action.

Currently, anyone entering the U.S. must be tested three days in advance but now government officials are looking to require COVID-19 testing for everyone entering the country the day before they leave and after they land, regardless of vaccination status.

As it stands, there is no requirement to quarantine when you fly back into the country but that is a proposal the CDC is considering.

Diec doesn't think it will slow down travel numbers.

"The demand is still there. It's always going to be a concern for travelers who have pre-existing conditions. They have other things to take into consideration, but right now I'm not seeing a huge influx of cancellations," said Dieck.

Once in place, if people don't comply with the travel abroad rules, the White House says fines and other penalties could be levied.

"So the CDC is considering a number of measures," said Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General. "Right now, it hasn't fully decided on what it is implementing but I do believe some of the measures it's considering will have a substantial impact on our ability to detect the virus before it arrives here."

The federal mask mandate requiring masks inside of airports and on flights ends in January.

However, the CDC says they'll be monitoring high-traffic airports to see how the virus spreads.

"Currently, the CDC is expanding a surveillance program with XpresCheck to JFK, San Francisco, Newark, and Atlanta airports – four of the busiest international airports in the country," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. "This program allows for increased COVID testing for specific international arrivals, increasing our capacity to identify those with COVID-19 on arrival to the United States and enhancing our surveillance for the Omicron variant."

The World Health Organization says people over the age of 60 or anyone with underlying health conditions should stop traveling internationally for the time being.

That decision was made after finding the new variant poses an increased risk of infection.

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