LUTZ, Fla. (WFLA) — As travel requirements tighten due to a new COVID-19 variant, a Tampa Bay area woman had travel concerns of her own.
Anne Schulz reached out to 8 On Your Side after she says the travel company Gate 1 Travel wouldn’t cancel or refund her trip to South Africa, where the omicron variant of the coronavirus was recently first discovered.
Schulz says she and her husband booked the tour through the travel company last year. They were supposed to fly out of Tampa International Airport mid-December. Last week, the World Health Organization identified the new COVID-19 variant that’s spreading through that very same country.
Schulz reached out to the travel company asking they cancel her trip and give her a refund or travel credit. She says she was told the tour was still a go and if she canceled, she faced a penalty.
“I was shocked and mortified – highly irresponsible to take Americans to a hot spot,” Schulz said. “Two weeks from now they want us to go on a plane and go to South Africa.”
Schulz says the email they sent her said, “The safety of our passengers are of the utmost importance to us. We would not run tours if we did not deem it safe to do so. We currently have tours on the ground and are monitoring the situation intently.”
“It’s a dangerous time right now to take Americans to South Africa,” Schulz said.
Last week, President Joe Biden ordered air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries as a precautionary measure. Now, new travel requirements from the CDC says passengers flying to the U.S. from foreign countries need to have a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of flying starting Monday.
“God forbid I did catch COVID, I would have to quarantine in South Africa, losing work and possibly getting very sick,” Schulz feared.
After 8 On Your Side reached out to the travel company, a spokesman sent this statement via email:
“Anne Schulz’s trip to South Africa has been cancelled and is being processed today. All funds paid to Gate 1 will be automatically converted into a fully refundable future travel credit. She may apply this toward an alternate trip in the future to any Gate 1 destination, or she can request a full refund. I just called and left a message with Anne so that she is aware. She will receive additional details with regard to the cancellation in writing this afternoon.”
As holiday travel picks up across the country, there are still many questions surrounding omicron. The variant has now been reported in five U.S. states.
Dr. Michael Teng with USF Health says there’s still much we don’t know.
“Problem is we have instances of Omicron that test negative, get on plane, get off, then test positive. So it’s not full proof, but it will delay some of the introduction of omicron in the country,” Teng said.
In Hillsborough County, nearly 300 people got their booster shot at the West Tampa Community Resource Center in the last week, according to Hillsborough County Office of Emergency Management.
Dr. Teng says while we shouldn’t panic, there’s still reason to keep a close eye on the delta variant.
“We should be worried about delta because it’s here – the big dog in the U.S.,” Teng said.