Djily Mbacke cut his visit with his family in Senegal short because of Omicron.
The newest COVID-19 variant popped up 6,000 miles away from Senegal in South Africa, but Mbacke, 57, was convinced it was time to go.
“I think it’s bad,” the North Carolina resident said of the new variant as he passed through John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday. “Man I was scared of that — that’s why I came back.”
“I cut my vacation because of it,” he added, though he said there were only two or three cases in Senegal.
The Omicron variant has been found among travelers in the UK, Germany and the Czech Republic, and Dr. Anthony Fauci on Saturday said it may have already reached the US, though the CDC said no cases were reported so far.
While no direct flights from South Africa were arriving at JFK Saturday, other travelers who visited the continent said they were aware of the latest mutation of the virus.
“This is what it’s going to be,” said Ebenizer, a Maryland resident returning from Nairobi, Kenya, who asked that his last name not be used. “There’s going to be more variants, just like the flu. I’m not scared at all.”
Maine residents Shaina and Neville Gregory were returning from their honeymoon in Tanzania.
“The problem is, from the beginning, people let their guards downs once the vaccine came out,” said Shaina Gregory, 25. “People from the start of the virus weren’t using caution, which is why it exacerbated to where it is now.”
She noticed masks are rarely worn in Tanzania, about 2,500 miles northeast of South Africa.
That’s also a problem in the US, according to Epifana Qintana, a New Jersey landscape business owner who was on her way to Paraguay. “So many people don’t have the vaccine, and there are so many people who don’t use the mask,” she lamented.
Petra Heilmann, 57, flew into NYC from Frankfurt, Germany, to do some holiday shopping. “We just have to live with it,” she said, lamenting the possibility that travel restrictions will return on a wide scale.
The White House ordered new restrictions for flights from South Africa and seven neighboring countries starting Monday, including suspending or restricting entry of non-citizens who have been in those locales within 14 days. United and Delta airlines have said they will continue to operate flights between the two countries.
Flights that originate in South Africa land at all three New York area airports daily. Most have two or more stops along the way, including some that stop in Toronto before arriving at LaGuardia. United and Delta airlines operate direct flights between the two countries. United had a flight from Cape Town arriving at Newark around 7 a.m. Saturday, and the same flight is scheduled to land shortly before 7 a.m. Sunday.
“It’s never going to end” said Sandra Bernave, 50, of Queens, who was waiting for a cousin to arrive from Ecuador. “It’s getting worse and worse and worse.”