Chris Lange, FISM News
President Biden on Friday announced his decision to bar travelers from eight southern African countries from entering the U.S. following the identification of a new, potentially-more-contagious coronavirus variant, dubbed “Omicron,” by the World Health Organization (WHO). The ban, which goes into effect on Monday, does not include U.S. citizens and lawful U.S. permanent residents.
According to a Nov. 26 WHO report titled “Classification of Omicron (B.1.1.529): SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern,” the variant was first reported in South Africa Nov. 24, along with indications that preliminary evidence suggests Omicron “has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning.” The report further concludes the new variant has a “growth advantage” that poses “an increased risk of reinfection.” Infections have been identified in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi and Mozambique. Reuters reports that no cases of Omicron have been identified in the U.S. as of Friday, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Biden announced the travel ban just hours after his chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN further study about the variant and its ability to “evade” inoculation needs to be conducted before implementing travel restrictions.
“This is really something that’s in motion and we just arranged right now a discussion between our scientists and the South African scientists a little bit later in the morning to really get the facts – because you’re hearing a lot of things back and forth,” said Fauci.
The president, who has been vacationing at the Nantucket home of private equity billionaire David Rubenstein over the Thanksgiving holiday, was asked by reporters Friday why he did not fall in line with other nations who implemented immediate travel bans, choosing instead to delay enforcement until Monday. “Because that was the recommendation coming from my medical team,” he replied.
Biden cut off another reporter who questioned whether travel bans incentivize countries to hide variant outbreaks. “That’s ridiculous,” he snapped, “because you can’t hide the variants. It’s not like someone could hide the fact that there’s a new variant.”
The president went on to stress the need for Americans to get the Covid-19 vaccine, referring to it as “a patriotic responsibility.”
“Here’s the deal,” he said. “Every American who’s not been vaccinated should be responsible and be vaccinated from age five years and up, number one. Number two, everyone eligible for booster shots should get the booster shot immediately upon being eligible. That is the minimum that everyone should be doing.”
During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden slammed former President Trump for issuing a similar travel ban from China at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. “We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus,” then-candidate Biden tweeted. “We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.”
Despite his campaign-trail promise that “We’re going to beat this virus. We’re going to get it under control, I promise you,” the president has struggled to get the nation fully vaccinated, either through persuasion or pink-slip threats.
Meanwhile, the CDC reiterated its recommendations that Americans “follow prevention strategies such as wearing a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission, washing your hands frequently, and physically distancing from others.” They also recommend everyone aged 5+ get fully vaccinated and that eligible Americans receive COVID-19 vaccine boosters. “Travelers to the U.S. should continue to follow CDC recommendations for traveling,” they said, adding that updates will be provided as “more information becomes available.”