Will the Lambda Variant Shut Down Travel? What You Need to Know

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The latest COVID-19 variant is one to watch, but not yet of concern.

It seems that every few months, there's a brand new variant of COVID-19, each with its own unique traits. Some of these mutations make the virus much more dangerous and more likely to land you in the hospital, like the Delta variant, which is more transmissible than previous variants. But not every new variant is an immediate cause for panic.

One of the latest variants making headlines is the Lambda variant. With so many folks eager to head on vacation with all those pent up credit card rewards, news of yet another variant is quite the blow. However, despite some troubling data, you probably won't need to cancel your summer travel plans due to the Lambda variant.

As of now, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers the Lambda variant to be a "variant of interest." In contrast, the highly transmissible Delta variant is designated a "variant of concern."

Most Lambda spread is in South America

According to the WHO, the Lambda variant has been around since December 2020, and it was first reported in Peru. Since then, the variant has spread through multiple countries in South America, and it currently accounts for approximately 16% of variants across the continent.

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However, the Lambda variant has had minimal spread globally. It accounts for less than 1% of variants worldwide.

Many experts believe the spread of Lambda through South America may have less to do with the variant itself than with the conditions throughout the continent. Many countries in South America have low vaccine rates and poor vaccine availability. Crowded food markets and living conditions may also be playing a big role in the spread of COVID in South America, including the Lambda variant.

The Delta variant is most prevalent in Europe and the U.S.

Of all the current COVID variants, the one of most concern globally is the Delta variant. It currently accounts for roughly 94% of all variant cases worldwide and 96% of variants in Europe. In the U.K., the Delta variant is more than just dominant; it makes up 100% of recorded variants.

The Delta variant is also spreading rapidly throughout North America, making up 69% of variants in the U.S. and in North America overall. And that number is quickly growing; the Delta variant was only 20% of U.S. variants two months ago.

Given Delta's high rate of transmission, some countries have already enacted new restrictions on travel. Malta, for example, returned to mandatory quarantines for some visitors, while countries like Spain and Portugal have reinstituted nightly curfews. Many other countries have enacted restrictions on indoor spaces, such as bars and nightclubs, limiting or outright barring indoor service in some locations.

Plan for the unexpected with travel insurance

With so much of the global population still unvaccinated, new variants are all but inevitable. And even if they weren't, the current coronavirus variants are more than enough to make any kind of travel plans unsteady at best.

If you're of a mind to travel this year, the smartest thing you can do is ensure you have some decent travel insurance. While many travel providers are still offering free or discounted changes and cancellations, not everyone is -- and not everyone is making it easy, either. With travel insurance, you can rest easy knowing that your nonrefundable travel expenses are covered in the event you have to cancel your plans due to the latest coronavirus restrictions.

Some of the best travel credit cards actually come with pretty decent travel insurance. That said, it's important that you read through your policy carefully to know exactly what's covered -- and what isn't. When in the middle of a global pandemic, it's much better to be safe than sorry.

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