Dr. Anthony Stephen Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the Chief medical Advisor to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said on Wednesday that the administration ‘struggled’ with the decision to impose a travel ban on southern African nations with zero Omicron case detected so far.
During a White House press briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Fauci was asked to justify why a travel ban was imposed on countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho where no case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus had been detected.
“You know, that’s a very good question and important question, and we did struggle with that,” he said. “But we wanted to see if we could buy time temporarily. So, I do hope that this gets sorted out and lifted before it has any significant impact on your country.”
The southern African nations under a travel ban over the Omicron variant include South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
However, out of the eight countries, the Omicron variant has only been detected in two of them: South Africa and Botswana.
In addition, while Botswana for instance, had 19 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, the United Kingdom had 22 cases, calling into questions the rational behind the travel ban.
African leaders and global health officials have criticized the travel restrictions, saying they are not effective in preventing the spread of the virus.
The President of Malawi Lazarus Chakwera at the weekend called the travel restrictions a case of “Afrophobia.”
“We are all concerned about the new Covid variant and owe South Africa’s scientists our thanks for identifying it before anyone else did. But the unilateral travel bans now imposed on SADC countries by the UK, EU, US, Australia, and others are uncalled for. Covid measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia. #SADCChair,” he wrote on his official Facebook page.
At a CNN town hall on Wednesday night, Fauci said he “felt really badly” about the administration’s “difficult choice” to impose travel bans on South Africa in particular after authorities there reported the Omicron variant.
“We felt – or at least I felt and I know several other members of the team felt – really badly about that because South Africans have been extremely transparent and collegial in getting information to us,” Fauci told CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta. “It was a very difficult choice to make because we had no idea what’s going on when you saw what was coming out. We felt it was better to be safe than sorry.”
Fauci also said he hopes that scientists will have “enough information” soon about the new variant so that the United States can reverse the bans “as quickly as possible.”