Medical Experts Decry Omicron Travel Bans That Unfairly Target African Countries

Many health officials and government leaders warn that travel restrictions imposed by wealthy countries around the world on southern African countries because of the Omicron coronavirus variant are more harmful than beneficial.

Scientists estimate thatThere are likely thousands of Omicron cases across southern Africa. Indeed, cases of the variant have already been found in Canada.

However, it is possible that the variant has already spread to a number countries, including the United States. have placed travel restrictionsSouthern African countries. The U.S. restrictions apply to South Africa Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

President Joe Biden defended his administration’s decision to enact a ban on Monday, saying it was necessary to give people more time to react to the news of an additional variant.

“It gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get the vaccine,” Biden said in a statement from the White House, adding that the Omicron variant “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”

Experts in medicine rejected the idea that travel from these countries should be banned. They said that wealthy nations are partly to blame for hoarding vaccines. failing to distribute them to the rest of the world.

“It feels like these rich countries have learned absolutely nothing in terms of support,” said Francois Venter, a researcher from University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Jennifer Nuzzo is an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University.

“I don’t think the travel bans really have much of an impact, other than answering the political pressures that inevitably arise when a new variant emerges,” Nuzzo said.

Experts also noted that other variants that have come about since the start of the coronavirus pandemic haven’t resulted in significant travel bans the way Omicron has for African nations.

“These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country,” said South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa.

These bans could hamper future efforts to combat variants. Other nations that detect changes to virus may not see any reason to share their findings to the international community.

“What is the incentive for the next country that identifies the next important variant if their reward is what President Biden did to South Africa?” asked Amesh AdaljaJohns Hopkins University infectious disease expert,.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that Omicron has a “very high” global risk that is “concerning,” as it “may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility” due to having a wide range of mutations compared with other variants. But the organization, too, said that travel bans in response to the variant’s emergence are inappropriate.

“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of Covid-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.

“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” Moeti added.