Travel bans don’t really solve the problem – they just postpone it, says Rahib Ali, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, UK. Better testing is a much more effective measure.
“We need a balanced and proportional response. This means no travel bans, only testing and quarantine for people arriving from countries where the omicron circulates, ”says Ali.
Travel bans can have another negative effect: cutting off South Africa from scientific materials necessary for genomic observation, which could clarify the effect of the omicron in real conditions. Tulio de Oliveira, bioinformatist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, told nature“By next week, if nothing changes, we will run out of sequencing reagents.”
More worryingly, dealing with southern African countries will lead other countries to conclude that if you discover a new option, it’s better to keep it to yourself.
“They see others being punished for discovering a new variant, and this can prevent them from sharing the data we need. This is not a theoretical possibility; it’s very real, ”says Ali.
Omicron won’t be the last worrisome option. When the next one comes, we need countries to share what they know as soon as possible. General travel bans threaten this openness.
“Imposing travel bans targeting Africa undermines global solidarity,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, in a statement last week.