Omicron Prompts US to Restrict Travel From 8 Southern African Countries

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Africa
Courtesy of Gage Skidmore (Flickr CC0)

Acting on the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Prevention and Disease Control (CDC), President Joe Biden signed a travel restriction order after a significantly mutated COVID-19 variant Omicron (B.1.1.529) was discovered circulating in southern Africa. The order prohibits travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi as a “precautionary measure” until more scientific data is known.

The travel ban, effective Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, at 12:01 a.m. EST, includes everyone physically present in these eight nations during the 14 days before entry or attempted entry into the U.S. However, Biden’s announcement lists those exempted from the new travel constraints, including American citizens, legal permanent residents, and noncitizens whose spouses are citizens or permanent residents. However, they must test negative for the virus before traveling to the United States.

Since its emergence in South Africa, Morocco and Indonesia are the latest countries to announce travel limitations due to the Omicron variant. They join the EU, the U.K., Canada, and the United States to contain the new variant’s spread.

Africa
Courtesy of GCIS (Flickr CC0)

South Africa’s National Department of Health contends that travel restrictions are unjustified and not in line with World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The nation’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla believes restricting travel due to the newly identified B.1.1.529 variant is a witch hunt. He says the country “wants to be an honest player in the world.” Therefore, they want to share health information to benefit South Africans and the rest of the world.

Nonetheless, President Biden’s response it the United States will continue to be guided by the county’s top health experts’ advice based on science. Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, told ABC’s “The Week,” host George Stephanopoulos the variant has not been detected in the United States, yet.

But, he argued, there is no time like the present for the world to react to the threat. Banning travel from the southern African nations will never wholly prevent a highly transmissible virus from spreading. Other countries should not delay preparing for the variant’s arrival and wisely utilize the time the travel ban affords them.

Africa
Courtesy of AMISOM (Flickr PDM)

Based on the experience of the past 23 months, it is not a question of when Omicron will hit the country; it is inevitable. Fauci’s concern is whether or not the country will be prepared. With only 59.5% of the country’s adults being fully vaccinated, his apprehension is valid.

Everyone should be concerned since the most recently reported case in Germany is that of a fully vaccinated woman. The mutation, first detected in South Africa, has been confirmed in Belgium, Botswana, Isreal, Hong Kong, Holland, and Germany thus far.

Manufacturers of the 2-dose vaccinations, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, report they are ready to deal with vaccine-resistant variants. While these plans are in place, it will likely take weeks to determine if the South African strain is more infectious than the SARS-CoV-2 and its previously identified variants.

The CDC continues to advise people to follow safety protocols currently in place, avoid being in crowds with potentially unvaccinated people, wear a mask, frequently wash hands, social distance, and all adults 18 and older should get a booster shot. Everyone in the United States ages five and over is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination regardless of insurance or immigration status.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

CNN: US imposes travel restrictions over new Covid-19 variant (Live Updates); by Fernando Alfonso III and Mike Hayes
NBC News: Omicron Covid-19 variant could already be in U.S., Fauci says; by Nicole Acevedo
BBC: Covid: US joins EU in restricting flights from southern Africa over new coronavirus variant
The Hill: South Africa health minister calls travel bans over new COVID variant ‘unjustified;’ by Monique Beals
King 5 NBC News: Pfizer: ‘Tailor-made’ vaccine against new variants in 100 days; by Travis Pittman

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image by Mokhtar Mohamed Courtesy of AMISOM Public Information’s Flickr Page – Public Domain License
Second Inset Image by GCIS Courtesy of GovernmentZA’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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