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New COVID-19 Wave Could Threaten Tourism Comeback

Monday, April 05, 2021
WTTW News
by Quinn Myers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is safe for fully vaccinated people to travel, although the agency still advises against non-essential trips.

“For domestic travel, fully vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before or after travel or need to self-quarantine after travel,” said Dr. Rochelle Walenksy, director of the CDC. “For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can fly to visit their healthy grandkids without getting a COVID-19 test, or self-quarantining.”

But the renewed guidance comes as COVID-19 cases once again begin to spike across the U.S. and much of Europe.

In Chicago and Cook County, reported COVID-19 cases have risen dramatically over the past month. On Monday, Chicago reported an average of almost 600 new cases per day, an increase of more than 100 from the previous week.

“Any movement of people that are potentially infected is bad, is bad for the pandemic. So as you can see from these guidelines, yes it’s safer to go … but the recommendation is still: put off the travel if you can put it off,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, director of the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

The CDC advice comes as more and more Americans are getting back on airplanes, at least compared to this time a year ago.

The Transportation Security Administration tracked 1,543,474 travelers on April 4, 2021, up from just 122,029 on the same day in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic. But that figure was still down by about a million passengers compared with April 4, 2019.

“The chief executives of the large U.S. carriers are overjoyed that things are improving, because … they’re better than they were a year ago. They are still radically bad, if you want to compare them to two years ago,” said Claire Bushey, a Chicago-based reporter who covers the airline industry for the Financial Times. “But some improvement is better than none. It’s primarily been in leisure travel though, and that’s a bit of a concern for Chicago’s airline United, because much of their money comes from business class travel.”

The starts, stops and uncertainty over the past year have been particularly hard on Chicago’s travel agents.

Local agent John Conenna, who owns Venus Travel on Chicago’s Northwest Side, says he’s getting calls every day to book trips abroad, especially to Italy. But because of the current surge of COVID-19 cases in Europe, and the continent’s slow vaccine rollout, he’s not able to help.

“The market that needs to improve, and I don’t see it improving, is the European market, just because of the situation with the vaccinations,” Conenna said. “That European market, especially for the agency I have, that is the market that basically is the profitable size of my business, and if it doesn’t pick up, it’s going to be a problem.”



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