Concern Mounting for Boston Logan Travelers After Omicron Prompts Travel Ban

“I don’t want the borders to close again and go into another lockdown,” Elin Van Oosterum said after she greeted her mother who flew into Boston from Amsterdam.

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As a new COVID-19 variant emerges prompting the United States to issue a travel ban on South Africa and seven other countries, international travelers at Boston Logan are growing worried.

The World Health Organization has named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern. There are no reported cases in the United States just yet, but those with family abroad say they are concerned it is only a matter of time.

“I don’t want the borders to close again and go into another lockdown,” Eline Van Oosterum said after she greeted her mother who flew in from Amsterdam.

Reunions are still happening in Terminal E after the pandemic kept families apart for months. Hense Scaturro’s parents flew in from Italy on Friday after she went two and half years without seeing them. News of the South African variant has them feeling anxious.

“I’m just hoping it doesn’t happen again and lead to another lockdown because they are just meeting my daughter for the first time and I want them to be able to come back,” Scaturro said.

A new variant, named B.1.1.529, was named a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization and given the name “omicron” from the letter in the Greek alphabet.

Dr. Sandeep Jubbal, an infectious disease specialist at UMass Memorial, said not only is the variant more contagious, a number of mutations could make it more resistant to vaccines.

“It is a highly infectious agent. Definitely we should take this seriously, but we need more data before we consider next steps,” Dr. Jubbal said.

News of the variant comes as cases start to spike in Massachusetts. Gov. Charlie Baker has already ordered facilities with bed shortages to cancel elective procedures starting next week.

“As a healthcare worker, it’s really devastating making people wait so long to get the care they really do need,” Dr. Tanya Girgenrath of UMass Memorial said.

Baker also said in a tweet Friday that the air travel restrictions ordered by Biden are the "right move" until the medical community can learn more about the new COVID variant.

"Getting a vaccine and a booster remains the best way to keep you and your family safe," Baker said on Twitter.

As hospitals deal with a shortage of beds, elective procedures are being canceled.

While it is too early to tell how effective the vaccine will be on the new strain, experts do say getting the shot is still the best way to prepare.

A clinic in Brockton was filled with people getting shots instead of shopping on Black Friday. Brenda Dean, who lost her father to COVID-19 a year ago this month, brought her granddaughter and already has her booster.

“It’s not over. It’s not over. When they get in there, they always say, 'why didn’t I get a vaccine?'" Dean said. "This is why. It’s real and my father is gone."

Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease specialist at South Shore Hospital, joined us to discuss Omicron -- the new variant of concern first detected in South Africa.
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