US President Joe Biden announced that the United States would restrict travel from South Africa and seven other African countries, effective Monday.
Any non-US citizen who has lived in one of eight countries during the 14 days prior to arrival in the United States will be denied entry. Restrictions do not apply to US citizens and lawful permanent residents; However, they must test negative before travelling, as should all international travelers.
Biden made the announcement on Friday after consulting with his chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Apart from South Africa, other countries are Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
Biden took action after the World Health Organization (WHO) designated the new version, B.1.1.
In his announcement, Biden said he has two important messages for the American people: For those fully vaccinated, “get a booster shot as soon as you’re eligible.” and “For those who have not yet been fully vaccinated, get vaccinated today.”
What is Omicron?
Omicron is the fifth WHO-designated version of the concern. It was first detected in recent weeks in South Africa, which has seen a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases.
There are about 30 mutations on the virus’s spike protein, and scientists worry that some of them could make the virus easier to transmit. But scientists still don’t know whether Omicron is actually more permeable or dangerous.
Concerns about the new version plagued financial markets on Friday and pushed the price of oil below $10 a barrel.
The WHO said it could take weeks to understand the variant and cautioned against travel restrictions. Its emergencies director, Mike Ryan, urged “no knee-jerk reaction”.
Ryan’s advice went unheeded as travel restrictions were immediately reinstated in other countries, including the UK, EU, Canada and the US, with countries such as India, Japan, Israel, Turkey, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates implementing some form of travel restrictions. did, Reuters reported.
Some epidemiologists warned it was too late. Omicron has already been found in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong. Dozens of passengers who landed in the Netherlands on South African flights initially tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Travellers with a positive test result will be kept in isolation at a hotel in or near Schiphol,” Dutch health officials said in a statement. “Of the positive test results, we are researching as soon as possible whether they are a new form of anxiety.”
Omicron’s response to travel restrictions and quarantine requirements in Switzerland has prompted the World Trade Organization to postpone its biennial meeting, originally scheduled to start on Tuesday. One of the main agenda items for the gathering was to improve the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
Many ministers and delegates will not be able to attend the meeting due to restrictions, Director-General Ngoji Okonjo-Iwela said. “This is not an easy recommendation to make, she said. “But as Director General, my priority is the health and safety of all MC12 participants – ministers, representatives and civil society.”
But some officials have expressed hope that early detection of the new variant, with new restrictions, could have a bigger impact than the initial response to the delta variant, said Jeffrey Barrett, director of COVID-19 genetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Hinxton. , England, told the Associated Press.
“With Delta, it took many, many weeks before it was clear what was going on, the terrible wave in India and Delta had seeded itself in many places in the world and it was too late to do anything about it. It was done,” he said. “We may be at an earlier point with this new version, so there may still be time to do something about it.”
The South African government has called the travel restrictions “hasty” and raised concerns about the impact on business.
David Frost, CEO of South Africa’s Inbound Tourism Association, says the impact on the region would be devastating.
“We were taken off the red list in October, and this was desperately needed. We’ve been locked down for more than 18 months,” Frost said. “You know, the industry is really on its knees. Its impact is absolutely dire for livelihoods, families.”
South African Tourism Minister Lindive Sisulu said the new York Times That his country is feeling “punished” for the Omicron research conducted by its scientists.
Dr. Michelle Grom, head of the Department of Public Health Surveillance and Response at South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases, said social distancing and the use of masks could help combat the virus, but questioned the efficacy of travel restrictions.
“We haven’t been able to contain the spread of the original virus initially, and all subsequent variants have spread globally, you know,” Groom said. “I think there is limited value in terms of these restrictions.”
Instead, she said, vaccinating more populations would help prevent the most severe cases and deaths.
low vaccination rate
Roughly 35% of South Africa’s adult population is vaccinated, well short of the target of 70%.
The figures are even lower in most of the African continent.
Experts warn that vaccine disparity would create a breeding ground for virus mutations.
Astrid Haas is an independent urban economist in Kampala, Uganda.
“Now in Europe and in North America, in particular, they are talking about booster shots and third vaccines, whereas we now know from the WHO that less than 10% of African countries are meeting their vaccine targets for this year. … a very sad expression of global vaccine inequality,” she said.
In the absence of vaccinations, a lockdown may be on the horizon.
Some information for this report has been received from The Associated Press and Reuters.