In fact, travel bans don’t solve the problem – they just postpone it, says Raghib Ali, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, UK. Better tests are a far more effective measure.
“We need a balanced and proportional response. This does not mean travel bans, but tests and quarantine for people who come from countries where Omicron is in circulation, ”says Ali.
The travel bans could have another negative side effect: cutting South Africa off from the science it needs to conduct genome surveillance that could elucidate the effects of omicrons in real-world settings. Tulio de Oliveira, bioinformatician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, told Nature, “If nothing changes by next week, we’ll run out of sequencing reagents.”
The bigger fear is that the treatment of South African countries will lead other countries to conclude that if you discover a new variant, it is best to keep it to yourself.
“They see that others are punished if they discover a new variant, and that could prevent them from disclosing the data we need. This is not a theoretical possibility; it’s very real, ”says Ali.
Omicron won’t be the last worrying variant. When the next one comes, we need countries that share their knowledge as quickly as possible. General travel bans endanger this openness.
“Imposing travel bans on Africa attacks global solidarity,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement last week.