Experts warn travel bans may be too late to fend off the spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant.
With its high number of mutations that could make it more transmissible, omicron was first identified by scientists in South Africa, triggering curbs in flights into countries including the United States.
“By the time we have enough information to institute a travel ban, the cat’s already out of the bag, so to speak,” Nicole Errett, a professor at the University of Washington who has done research on public health emergency preparedness, told The Washington Post.
“Omicron has already been detected in other continents. A travel ban could in theory buy some time by reducing the spread of new seed cases, but we are talking on the order of days to weeks,” she added.
Confirmed and suspected COVID -19 cases caused by the new variant have been detected in a growing number of regions, including Britain, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, Israel and the Czech Republic, the Post reported.
Austria also joined the growing list, Reuters reported Sunday. And two planes from South Africa landed in the Netherlands on Saturday with 61 people infected with the coronavirus, including 13 cases the new omicron variant, the Post reported.
Health officials in Australia also confirmed two fully vaccinated, asymptomatic passengers on a flight into Sydney tested positive for the variant, the news outlet reported.
Meanwhile, critics called out the administration for its “worse than useless” response the omicron variant.
“No worries, travel ban begins next week because you know, variants don’t spread on holiday weekends,” Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted. “Who really believes this variant isn’t already here?”
The weekend-long delay in launching the ban on travel also ticked off Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who lamented “the stunning hypocrisy of Democrats” regarding COVID travel bans during the last 20 months.
“When President Trump took bold and decisive action in February 2020 to impose travel restrictions into the United States from coronavirus hot spots, Joe Biden attacked him, calling this decision a disgrace and xenophobic,” said Stefanik, the New York Post reported.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., joined in on the condemnation of the travel measure as “worse than useless.”
“Joe Biden and Tony Fauci push crushing restrictions on Americans — like masking two-year-olds — that are pointless,” Cotton tweeted. “But when it comes to targeted travel bans to protect American citizens, it’s nothing but incompetence and half measures from this White House.”