Top US infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci has said the United States will “hopefully” be able to lift its travel ban on African countries “in a quite reasonable period of time,” which the United Nations has denounced as “travel apartheid.”
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Fauci said that the US is re-evaluating the travel ban, a week after he said the ban would give the US time to prepare for the highly contagious omicron variant of coronavirus.
The White House chief medical adviser said some early data about the omicron data is “a bit encouraging,” and added that now the travel ban could be lifted.
“That ban was done at a time when we were really in the dark,” he said. “We had no idea what was going on, except that there seemed to have been an explosion of cases of omicron in South Africa.
“So when the ban was put on, it was to give us time to figure out just what is going on,” he added. “Now … as we’re getting more and more information about cases in our own country and worldwide, we’re looking at that very carefully on a daily basis. Hopefully, we’ll be able to lift that ban within a quite reasonable period of time.”
The administration of US President Joe Biden last week implemented a ban to restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
The administration said that the measure was taken out of an abundance of caution in light of the new variant.
The decision sparked an immediate backlash from the international community and public health experts, who say it is ineffective and punitive against African countries.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called the US response “travel apartheid.”
He said that travel restrictions imposed over COVID-19 that isolate any one country or region as “not only deeply unfair and punitive – they are ineffective.”
Guterres stated that the only way to reduce the risk of transmission while allowing for travel and economic engagement was to repeatedly test travelers, “together with other appropriate and truly effective measures,” according to Reuters.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday said it was “deeply concerning” that African countries are being “penalized” with travel restrictions after detecting and reporting the omicron variant.