The World Health Organization has warned blanket travel bans will not prevent the spread of Omicron, as more countries rushed to impose curbs.
In the week since the new virus strain was reported by South Africa, dozens of countries around the world have responded with travel restrictions – most targeting southern African countries. Despite shutting its borders to travel from high-risk southern African countries, Australia became the latest country to report community transmission of the new variant, a day after it was found in five US States.
Omicron has gained a foothold in Asia, Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and Europe, and has reached seven of the nine provinces of South Africa, where it was first identified. More many governments have tightened travel rules to keep the variant out. Omicron has been listed as a “variant of concern” by WHO and scientists are still gathering data to establish how severe and contagious it is just as parts of Europe have been hit by surges of winter infections by the more familiar Delta variant. So far, well over a dozen countries and territories have detected the cases of the Omicron variant including Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and Portugal.
The World Health Organization warned that “blanket” travel bans risked doing more harm than good, just as Canada expanded its restrictions. In a travel advisory, the WHO warned the bans could ultimately dissuade countries from sharing data about the evolving virus. But it did advise that unvaccinated people vulnerable to COVID-19, including over-60’s should avoid travel to areas with community transmission of the virus.
“Border controls cab buy time but every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases,” Takeshi Kasai, the WHO’s western pacific director, told a media briefing. “People should not rely on border measures. What is most important is to prepare for these variants with potential high transmissibility. So far the information available suggests we don’t have to change our approach.”
The likely futility of broad travel restrictions was underscored as Dutch authorities reported that Omicron was present in the country before South Africa officially reported its first cases on November 25. WHO reported that the new variant – whose number high number of mutations, may make it more likely transmissible or resistant to vaccines. It was found in two Dutch test samples from November 19 and 23, with one having no travel history.
However, US president Joe Biden said the travel bans on just the southern African nations would stay in place, without referencing the other places where Omicron has been detected. Asked how long the travel restrictions would remain in place, Biden said, “kind of depends.”
Southern African president, Cyril Ramaphosa said it would have not being ideal if African countries did not react to the discovery of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, and has called on other nations to Lift the ban on southern African travelers, saying this will have a devastating impact on the regions economies which are barely coping under harsh conditions brought about by the pandemic.