WHO warns against blanket travel bans as Omicron spreads

Dec 1, 2021: The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that blanket travel bans will not stop the spread of Omicron, as more countries are vying for restrictions as the first cases of the new virus have been detected in Latin America.

In the week since South Africa reported new strain of the virus, dozens of countries around the world have responded with travel bans – mostly targeting South African countries. But the World Health Organization warned on Tuesday that “blanket” travel bans could do more harm than good, as Canada has increased its bans. In a travel advisory, the WHO warned that sanctions could eventually prevent countries from sharing data on emerging viruses.

But he suggested that non-vaccinated people at risk of CoVid19, including people over the age of 60, should avoid traveling to areas where the virus has high transmission rates.

The head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebrisius, said it was understandable that countries should work to protect their citizens “against something we do not yet fully understand.” But he called on the global response to be “calm, cohesive and cohesive”, urging nations to take “rational, proportionate risk mitigation measures”.

Extensive travel bans have been highlighted, as Dutch authorities have reported that Omicron was in the country before South Africa officially reported its first case on November 25.

The new variant – with a number of variations that the WHO believes could make it more transmissible or resistant to the vaccine – was found in two Dutch test samples on November 19 and 23, one of which had no travel history.

So far, cases have been detected in more than a dozen countries and territories, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and Portugal. Latin America reported its first two cases on Tuesday – among those traveling from South Africa to Brazil – and the first case was confirmed in Japan, a day after it banned the entry of all foreigners.

However, US President Joe Biden said that travel restrictions would remain in place only on South African countries, without mentioning other places where Omicron has been identified. Asked how long the travel bans imposed on South Africa and seven other South African countries on Monday would last, Biden said it was “a kind of depends”.

Asked if there could be a sudden extension of travel bans to other countries, as was the case under former President Donald Trump, Biden said: “Unlike Trump, I do not shock my allies.”

In Asia, governments continued to increase sanctions on Wednesday, including Indonesia adding Hong Kong to its travel ban list with various African countries. Hong Kong also added three more countries – Japan, Portugal and Sweden – to its list of top travel bans when it came to Omicron cases.

While much is still unknown about the Omicron variant — it could take weeks to determine whether and to what extent it is vaccine-resistant — it has highlighted that the global fight against Covid-19 is far from over.

Omicron has emerged as much of the northern hemisphere was already bracing for a new winter wave of the pandemic — leaving even nations with high vaccination rates struggling to contain rising infection numbers and prevent health services from being overwhelmed.

Governments, particularly in Western Europe, have already reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns — leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.

Britain has set a target of delivering third jabs to all adults within two months.

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