Blanket bans won’t stop Omicron spread but more testing will, says WHO

World Health Organisation
By Lisa James
Home » Blanket bans won’t stop Omicron spread but more testing will, says WHO

The World Health Organisation has said blanket travel bans to control the new COVID variant are unnecessary and place a ‘heavy burden on livelihoods’ but has encouraged governments to beef up and intensify surveillance, including more travel testing.

Speaking at a news conference, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 26 countries have now reported cases of the Omicron variant and WHO expects the number to grow.

But he said it was concerning that South Africa and Botswana are ‘being penalised for doing the right thing’ in reporting the variant.

The Director-General said: “Blanket bans will not prevent the international spread of Omicron and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

While much of the focus at the moment is on the new strain, Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO Emergency Programme warned there is a ‘crisis’ in Europe because of the Delta variant.

Dr Ryan said: “This is a time for governments to take action. It’s time for everyone to re-evaluate ourselves to control the pandemic of multiple strains. We are dealing with a crisis and the crisis is in Europe and it is being driven by the Delta variant.

“There are ways you can de-risk travel in terms of having increased testing, more testing before departure, more testing on arrival and quarantine until negative testing.

“There’s a whole series of things that can be done that will manage the risk of importation of disease or even exporting disease to another country, which falls short of blanket bans.”

He criticised the ‘inherent contradictions’ of governments that ‘ban flights except for their own citizens’.

“Does the virus read your passport? Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident?”

He called for “Public health processes, not political, to ensure measures are targeted at reducing transmission of the virus while presenting the least possible imposition on the individual’s rights and freedoms of movements.”

WHO Epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said it’s possible the new strain Omicron may become more transmissible than Delta but experts don’t yet know about its severity. However, she said some Omicron cases are ‘mild’ and experts should have more information about its transmission within days.

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