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Travelers, airport tighten up their guard against omicron variant of COVID-19

Officers are disinfecting carriers in efforts to guard against omicron variant of COVID-19. (Yonhap)
Officers are disinfecting carriers in efforts to guard against omicron variant of COVID-19. (Yonhap)
Silence prevailed at the departure gates of Incheon Airport on Thursday, a day after the nation reported its first cases of COVID-19’s omicron variant.

People waiting to check in for their flights were seated meters apart with masks on. Some were wearing plastic gloves and face shields for extra protection. Cafes at the terminal were open but practically empty.

“I mean, it’s the airport. Even my parents think working here makes me vulnerable to omicron. So I understand that we don’t have customers taking off their masks just to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea when they could catch omicron,” said a part-time employee of a bubble tea store in the airport.

Most people there were returning home from business trips or students returning to their schools.

It was difficult to find tourists waiting for a flight.

A 31-year-old businessperson, surnamed Lee, had come from the US to visit his parents in Seoul and said he decided to leave earlier than planned fearing tighter quarantine measures due to the omicron variant.

“I was exempt from quarantine when I landed here because I was fully vaccinated. But with omicron, I did not want to take chances. If the US decides to enhance quarantine due to omicron, I cannot go back to work,” he said.

Compared to the departure gates, entry gates were pretty busy.

Overseas arrivals were lined up at the entry gates in an orderly manner, and were instructed by officers on what to do and where to go.

Officers were all wearing masks, face shields, gloves and surgical gowns for protection against COVID-19.

Incheon Airport told reporters Thursday during a press conference that they will continue to tightly manage quarantine measures but they will have to analyze omicron more to decide on whether they will further enhance disease control measures or maintain them at the current level.

Due to fears over the omicron variant, airlines are facing a growing flow of cancellations.

“When Japan announced that they would not allow entry, we saw a lot of cancellations. But we still need some time to digest the effect of omicron on overall travel demand because Saipan, for example, which Korea has formed a travel bubble with, is still exempt from quarantine,” an airline official noted.

By Hong Yoo (yoohong@heraldcorp.com)
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