NEWARK, NJ – The latest variant of COVID-19 is shaking up vacation plans for tens of thousands of travelers – but it hasn’t done much to damage vacation shopping.

Airlines canceled hundreds of additional flights on Sunday, citing staff issues related to COVID-19, as the country’s travel problems lingered beyond Christmas, with no clear indication of when normal hours would resume.

But buyers have ignored the omicron variant, and holiday sales have grown at the fastest rate in 17 years, according to a spending measure.

Omicron is likely to slow the surprisingly strong rebound in the economy from last year’s coronavirus recession by disrupting travel and discouraging some consumers from venturing out. The variant could also add more heat to already simmering inflation by forcing shutdowns of factories and ports, delaying shipments and pushing up prices.

“A complete reopening of the US economy will be delayed again,” said Robin Brooks, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, a commercial group of financial companies.

But we don’t yet know how far the injury will go or how long it will last.

For now, the variant is wreaking havoc with travel. More than 1,100 flights entering, leaving or flying in the United States have been canceled, according to flight tracking site FlightAware. That figure was up from nearly 1,000 on Saturday. About 130 flights have already been canceled for Monday.

Delta, United, JetBlue and American blamed omicron for staff shortages that forced cancellations.

“It was unexpected,” United spokeswoman Maddie King said of the effect of the variant on staff.

Globally, airlines cut more than 2,700 flights as of Sunday night, nearly the more than 2,800 cancellations the day before, according to data from FlightAware. The site does not say why the flights were canceled.

JetBlue cut 11% of its flights on Sunday. Delta and United both canceled 5%, according to FlightAware. The three airlines canceled more than 10% of their scheduled flights on Saturday.

Mason Herlocker waited Sunday at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey to pick up his girlfriend, who was arriving from Paris. Her flight was delayed for four hours.

It took her five hours to take a COVID-19 test the day before entering the United States. She’s been visiting for three weeks, and Herlocker said he’s worried she might get stuck here if she doesn’t test negative before trying to get home to France.

Worried that his parents were falling ill, Herlocker recently received a booster shot and encouraged others to get it as well. He said he did not believe the end of the pandemic was in sight.

“I am of the opinion that this is the new normal,” Herlocker said. “I don’t expect (the virus) to go away anytime soon. “

Aneesh Abhyankar arrived from Atlanta on Sunday and was awaiting a flight to India.

None of his flights were delayed or canceled, but he said news of the omicron variant had encouraged him to increase his trips to make sure he could get to his destination. He said face masks and vaccines are likely to take hold in everyday life for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t think we have much to worry about if we’re taking all the precautions, and I think we’re going to get into a situation where we’re just living with,” the virus, he said.

Despite omicron, American consumers seemed fearless. Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks all kinds of payments including cash and debit cards, reported on Sunday that holiday sales were up 8.5% from the previous year, the biggest annual gain in 17 year. Mastercard SpendingPulse expected an 8.8% increase.

The results, which covered November 1 to December 24, were fueled by purchases of clothing and jewelry. Holiday sales increased 10.7% from the pre-pandemic 2019 holiday season.

After the success of omicron, some consumers shifted their spending to e-commerce, but sales remained strong.

“I feel really good about the way the season has gone,” said Steve Sadove, senior advisor to Mastercard and former CEO of Saks Inc. a slight slowdown in store performance.

Sadove said consumers are “learning to live” with what COVID-19 throws at them.

“You are coming out of 2021 with a certain consumer momentum,” he said.

Also on Sunday, the country’s top infectious disease doctor admitted he was frustrated with the limited supply of COVID-19 tests.

Demand for testing increased amid the omicron wave. “We obviously have to do better,” Dr Anthony Fauci said in an interview broadcast on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.

“I think things are going to improve dramatically as January approaches, but that doesn’t help us today and tomorrow,” Fauci said.

Fauci said he was happy with the evidence that omicron causes less severe disease for most people. But he cautioned against complacency as the rapid spread of the disease could “reverse a real decrease in severity” as many more people could be infected.

There are still many questions about the severity of the omicron outbreak in the United States, Johns Hopkins infectious disease specialist Dr Amesh Adalja said on Sunday.

“There are several signals showing a decrease in severity. But the problem is, we have a lot of people at high risk who are not getting vaccinated in some parts of the country. And there are hospitals in those areas that are already treating a lot of Delta patients, ”Adalja said.


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