Fauci says he ‘felt really badly’ about ‘difficult choice’ on travel bans
Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday he “felt really badly” about the Biden administration’s “difficult choice” to institute travel bans on South Africa in particular after its authorities reported the omicron variant.
Biden’s chief medical officer said at a CNN town hall that there’s “some merit” to criticisms that restricting travel from South Africa and Botswana after the nations alerted the world about the omicron strain could discourage other countries from reporting future variants.
“We felt — or at least I felt and I know several other members of the team felt — really badly about that because the South Africans have been extremely transparent and collegial in getting information to us,” Fauci told CNN’s Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper.
“It was a very difficult choice to make because we had no idea what’s going on when you saw what was coming out,” he added. “So we felt it was better to be safe than sorry.”
But Fauci said he hopes that scientists will receive “enough information soon” so that the U.S. can reverse the bans “as quickly as possible.”
“You don’t want individual countries to feel that when they are honest and transparent that there’re negative consequences for them,” he said. “So I do really feel badly about that.”
The comments from the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases come as leaders of the World Health Organization and the United Nations have objected to nations’ decisions to limit travel from multiple African countries.
The U.S. banned travelers from eight African countries, exempting American citizens and permanent residents.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the response “deeply concerning,” particularly for South Africa and Botswana, saying they’re “being penalized for doing the right thing.”
“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of omicron, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Tedros said.
Instead he urged countries to use precautions including screening passengers before and after travel and quarantining international visitors.
Similarly, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described the response as “travel apartheid.”
The U.S. confirmed its first omicron case on Wednesday in California despite restricting travel starting this week.
Earlier Wednesday, Fauci defended the travel ban policy as necessary to give the U.S. time to study the omicron strain.
“We did struggle with that,” Fauci told a reporter for Today News Africa. “We wanted to see if we could buy time, temporarily, so I do hope that this gets sorted out and lifted before it has any significant impact on your country.”
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