Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), criticized on Friday the U.S. decision to ban travel from South Africa and seven other countries in response to the new COVID Omicron variant as “counterproductive.”
Gottlieb wrote on Twitter that it is “good” that the world is taking Omicron seriously as it prepares to combat the new variant, but warned that imposing strict travel restrictions will backfire.
“It’s counterproductive in short and long run, however, to impose harsh travel restrictions on affected countries; hurting current containment efforts, discouraging future sharing,” he said on Twitter.
President Joe Biden on Friday banned travel from South Africa, Eswatini, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana starting November 29.
The president said that his decision came as a “precautionary measure” after he had a briefing with his chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and the COVID response team.
“There’s too much we don’t know to impose economically, socially ruinous policies on SA and other nations,” Gottlieb wrote in another Tweet criticizing the travel ban. “Ready, fire, aim is not prudent public health policy. Vaccine, testing requirements for incoming travelers could be prudent. Outright travel bans can hurt more than help.”
In a White House statement on Friday, Biden urged fully vaccinated Americans to get their COVID vaccine booster shots and called for global vaccinations to curb the spread of the new strain that originated in South Africa.
Japan, Israel, and the U.K. have also imposed temporary air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant.
Similarly, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it is considering working with EU members to apply air travel restrictions from the southern African region.
Meanwhile, South African officials have echoed Gottlieb’s concerns about moving too fast when it comes to imposing travel restrictions.
South Africa’s health minister Joe Phaahla denounced these decisions on Friday and said that the country was transparent in sharing the news about the new variant with the world, as it was detected by scientists in the country earlier this week, according to The Guardian.
“The same countries that are enacting this kind of knee-jerk, draconian reaction are battling their own waves,” Phaahla said during a press conference, according to the publication.
“The reaction of countries to impose travel bans are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization,” the health minister added.
Chairperson of the South African Medical Association, Angelique Coetzee, also shared similar views. She told the BBC that travel bans were “premature” and that “for now, it is a storm in a tea cup.”
Coetzee said that the variant “seems to have originated” from an HIV patient, but confirmed that there were only six Omicron cases in South Africa, local radio station Jacaranda FM reported on Thursday.
Still, Fauci told CNN on Friday that “everything” needs to be done “to protect the American public.” But he added that “we need to get the facts” about the Omicron variant and that there is “no indication” that it has reached the U.S.
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