Omicron: Travel Bans Are Not a Solution, But the Problem to Containing Coronavirus

The global panic over the latest Covid-19 variant has elicited a spectrum of reactions. If you are a frontline scientist in South Africa, a health worker, or a member of the Centre For Disease Control, it is a matter of immediate concern. You have no choice but to get underway as soon as possible.

By Dr. Faheem Younus, 1 Dec 2021

However, if you are a man on the street, your only goal should be to get vaccinated. There is no need to be alarmed. Our panic should be measured and translated into caution because it’s a long game.

Omicron is the seventh variant of concern or interest that has surfaced in the past fourteen months. We can’t expect things to be normal if we’re in this frenzy every two months. People are worn out. Our communication must be calm, careful, and action-oriented. That is where I believe we should concentrate our efforts.

Travel bans are overly simplistic. They are both a solution and a problem. The price that the globe, humans and economies pay for a travel ban is prohibitively high. South Africa may be being penalized for its transparency. At the Johannesburg airport alone, more than a million people fly out on a monthly basis. These are the sort of numbers we are dealing with.

In my opinion, a better strategy this time would be the three-prong approach:

  • Mandate vaccines for air travel, particularly international travel. As long as you have proof of vaccination, any WHO-approved vaccine should be fine.
  • We are all aware that even after being immunised, people can still spread the virus. As a result, you require travellers to wear a KN95 mask. This will help to reduce transmission.
  • Mandate a negative PCR test. Not a rapid test. And the Omicron variant can preliminarily even be detected by a regular PCR test before you go for genomic surveillance.

Putting these three guidelines in place should be easy. If you travel from Canada to the USA, these three things are pretty much in place. When you do this, economies can thrive, you are incentivizing and encouraging people to report their variants on time, and you avoid creating panic.

It is now expected that by the time we discover a variant, it will have spread to at least a dozen countries. The reason for this is the level of globalization and the interconnected world we live in.

But we now have the means to combat the virus.

Mandating vaccines are an ethical, philosophical and political debate. I am vaccinated and heavily biased towards vaccines. I have lost so many patients, including my uncle. When the virus touches you personally, you become more wary of it.

It is great that we are beyond the phase of a lockdown. We had no idea about the virus when we went into lockdowns. When we come back today, we have ample PPE, have a better understanding of the virus’s behaviour and its seven different variants. We have nearly ten vaccines. Today, half of the world has received at least one dose. This pandemic is now in its second phase. If this were a cricket match, we would be in the second innings.