The Biden administration is facing strong criticism for its decision to impose a travel ban on South Africa and several neighboring countries in the wake of the omicron variant, restarting a debate from some of the earliest days of the pandemic.
The latest variant has been discovered in more than a dozen countries, but so far officials have restricted the ban to travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The new measures, which went into effect on Monday, reintroduced land-based restrictions that officials had finalized just weeks earlier in favor of a policy requiring all foreign nationals arriving in the United States to be fully vaccinated.
Choosing and selecting countries based on infections is arbitrary, experts say, because the disease is already entrenched in the United States. Now all foreign visitors must be vaccinated, except those who have traveled from eight specific countries, which are banned.
Experts argue that bans are an ineffective knee-jerk reaction, especially those as porous as the recent one from the United States, which exempts U.S. citizens and residents and does not require further quarantine or contact tracing.
President BidenJoe BidenDearborn’s Office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalizes Pfizer for applying for COVID-19 booster approval for 16- and 17-year-olds: Coronavirus variant report raises new concerns for the economy MORE Monday defended travel restrictions, saying they give people time to prepare.
A travel ban “may slow down the speed of the omicron, but it can not stop it,” Biden said in remarks in the White House. “It gives us time to take more action, to move faster, to make sure people understand that they need to be vaccinated, to be boosted.”
The top administration’s health officials have said they hope to use the time to study the variant, as not much is known about it yet – such as whether it causes mild or severe illness, or whether it is more transmissible.
“If you want to make the travel ban that we’re done now and that we’m implementing right now, use the time you buy to fill in the gaps.” Anthony FauciAnthony FauciBiden resumes debate over travel ban Overnight Health Care – Presented by March of Dimes – Omicron launches a barrage of responses Newsweek opinion editor: Fauci represents ‘extremely arrogant and highly politicized elite’ MORE, the nation’s best expert in infectious diseases, said Sunday during an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
“And by buying time … you learn more about the virus, you learn what its relationship is to antibodies induced by vaccines, and above all, you use this time to really, really put your pedal on the floor and get people vaccinated. and get people boosted, ”he added.
Yet the latest ban ignites a violent setback that dates back to when the Trump administration moved to ban travelers from China early in the pandemic.
Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said it appears the United States has not learned from the mistakes of the Trump-era ban.
By the time the travel ban was introduced, the virus had already spread through most of the world and was probably already circulating undetected in the United States.
Like the current restrictions on African nations, China’s travel bans only applied to foreign nationals, with no restrictions on U.S. nationals or residents.
“Introducing this kind of travel restriction does not seem to make much difference in terms of the risk of importation, just because, you know, it is incomplete and limits it to a particular geography when we know that cases are being discovered all over the place right now, and travel is not limited from the other places, “Michaud said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa on Sunday called for borders to remain open, even though an increasing number of countries around the world are introducing flight bans from South African countries.
“Travel restrictions may play a role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 slightly, but placing a heavy burden on life and livelihoods. If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and they should be scientifically based,” says the organization. .
Although more countries are being added to flight ban lists, the variant has only been discovered in two South African countries, the WHO said.
“With the Omicron variant now being discovered in several regions of the world, the introduction of travel bans targeting Africa is attacking global solidarity. COVID-19 is constantly exploiting our divisions. We will only get better from the virus if we work together on solutions, “said WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti.
Leana Wen, a professor of public health at George Washington University, said in a CNN interview Monday that she believes the restrictions were the right idea, but incomplete.
“We should really put all travelers in quarantine and test again. We allow permanent residents and US citizens to return from these South African countries, which we should, but then we should also have mandatory quarantine and retesting for them; otherwise there are just too many loopholes, and we are not really reaching our goal, which is to contain omicron and prevent it from entering this country, “said Wen.