Closing borders won’t do much to stop Omicron, expert says and could be counterproductive – .

Closing borders won’t do much to stop Omicron, expert says and could be counterproductive – .

President Biden’s decision late last week to ban travel from eight countries in southern Africa is unlikely to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, an epidemiologist warns, and could even work against it. productive.
“While it is interesting to make a travel ban because it shows action and power and protects our borders, it actually does not have much of an impact on public health”, Dr Stefan Baral , associate professor in the epidemiology department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Yahoo News.

Baral, who is also the school’s key populations program director, travels regularly to South Africa for research where he focuses on disease distribution and control in a human rights context. And he said people rushing to travel before a ban could lead to high-profile events at airports.

“One of the things that happens [with border bans] it’s people rushing to the airport… when they have that 48 hour grace period, ”he said, noting similar precipitation last year due to border closures.

Travelers at Cape Town International Airport in Cape Town, South Africa on Tuesday. (Agence Xabiso Mkhabela / Anadolu via Getty Images)

“It was mass-market events that caused a significant amount of seeding across the United States because people rushed back. You also don’t create an environment in which people want to report their symptoms because they don’t even really know what is happening to them if they report that they are not feeling well.

The Omicron variant, which early evidence suggests could escape pre-existing immunity, was first identified on November 23 in South Africa, where less than 25% of the population is fully vaccinated. While not much is yet known about the variant, South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla has said he believes Omicron is behind a steady rise in rates of d infection across the country.

In response to detection of the variant, the United States has banned travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi – all countries from the southern region of the continent – as a precaution until we have more information, ”Biden said last Friday.

Other countries have adopted similar measures. In the UK, 10 southern African countries have been added to the ‘red list’, which does not ban travelers from entering the country but qualifies them as high risk. Visitors from Red List countries are required to take additional COVID-19 tests and self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival.

Travelers at a check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Saturday. (Phill Magakoe / AFP via Getty Images)

A number of countries in the European Union have banned travel from southern Africa. Japan, Israel and Morocco have banned all foreign visitors in response to the variant, while Australia has delayed opening its borders until December 15.

Since the World Health Organization reported on the existence of Omicron last week, the variant has been found in travelers in more than 25 countries, including Australia, Britain, Sweden and the States. United, which announced its first Omicron case on Wednesday. Dutch health authorities said on Tuesday they had identified the variant up to 11 days earlier in Western Europe, at least five days before the first positive case found in South Africa, according to the Associated Press.

“By the time you detect one variant, another is already circling under the radar somewhere,” tweeted Dr Kizzmekia Corbett, one of the leading scientists who helped design the genetic sequence of the Moderna vaccine, at the end of the week. last week. “So, with a mixture of surveillance delays, low vaccination rates, inequitable access to vaccines, we will chase the variants endlessly. «

Dr Anthony Fauci speaks from a podium while press secretary Jen Psaki listens during a daily White House briefing.
Dr Anthony Fauci at a daily White House briefing Wednesday. (Mandel Ngan / AFP via Getty Images)

Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, presented a qualified travel ban defense on Wednesday, saying that while it could not prevent the emergence of Omicron in the United States, it was “Necessary to save time to be able to prepare yourself, understand what is happening.”

“What is the nature of this infection? What is the nature of transmissibility? And we wanted to make sure that we didn’t all of a sudden say, “This is like anything else, don’t worry,” and then all of a sudden something happens in front of you. that you’re really not prepared for, ”Fauci said. “So we see this as a temporary measure.

“I hope this will be settled and lifted before it has a significant impact,” he added.

Historically, travel bans have been criticized by international health groups. Early last year, the WHO discouraged travel restrictions in response to the initial COVID-19 outbreak, touting it as bad policy. The bans, he said, deter countries from working with each other, which is necessary to monitor and track trends in a pandemic.

“In general, the evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions,” WHO argued in a report. February 2020. “In addition, restrictions can disrupt necessary aid and technical support, can disrupt businesses, and can have negative social and economic effects on affected countries. “

An electronic flight display board lists some canceled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.
An electronic flight display board shows some canceled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa on Saturday. (Phill Magakoe / AFP via Getty Images)

While travel bans may work temporarily in the early stages of an outbreak when a virus is located and not much is known about it, Baral notes that their effectiveness decreases dramatically once the virus is released. has spread to several cities, mainly because of the flow of goods. and the services never stop.

Highlighting the potential danger of the Omicron variant, the WHO on Tuesday advised anyone over 60 to postpone travel plans.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, local leaders have repeatedly denounced travel bans.

“The travel ban is not science-based, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said. said in a speech on Sunday. “The only thing the travel ban will do will be further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond and recover from the pandemic. “

Lazarus Chakwera, President of Malawi and Chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), wrote in a Facebook post that the South African scientists who identified the variant should be thanked for their work and called them “afrophobia” travel bans.

“We are all concerned about the new variant of Covid and thank South African scientists for identifying it before anyone else,” Chakwera wrote. “But the unilateral travel bans now imposed on SADC countries by the UK, EU, US, Australia and others are unwarranted. Covid measures must be based on science, not afrophobia. “

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 waits on the tarmac before departing for Cape Town, South Africa.  (Photo by David Silverman / Getty Images
An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787 awaits departure from Cape Town, South Africa on Wednesday. (David Silverman / Getty Images)

Stanley Ress, associate professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Cape Town, told Yahoo News South Africans are feeling largely “angry and annoyed” by the global response.

“We need trust and transparency,” he said.

More than 5.2 million people have died worldwide from COVID-19 and nearly 800,000 in the United States alone, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins. In comparison, around 90,000 people have died in South Africa, at a significantly lower rate than in the United States.

The White House has said readily available COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots are the best way to prevent the spread of Omicron in the country. “This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” Biden said Monday.

Baral, the Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, suggests focusing on “unmet needs,” such as lack of education and access to resources, as a better way to reduce infection rates.

“What stimulates the infections causes the variants,” he said. “So getting to the heart of these issues means not only shaming people or convincing them, but really examining what those unmet needs are. And I think that applies to the country and to the world.


Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images, Zhang Xiaoyu / Xinhua via Getty Images


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