The United States – along with dozens of others across Europe and Asia – implemented travel bans against travelers from seven southern African nations after the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the existence of a new variant, later designated omicron.
Officials in South Africa, the U.N. and WHO criticized the decision to lockout “one part of the world” in response to new information, with one official referring to the action as “travel apartheid.”
Other nations, including the United States, have now confirmed cases of the omicron variant within their borders, and Fauci said the U.S. is looking to reevaluate the travel ban in the face of the new information – but did not say when they might lift the ban.
“That ban was done at a time when we were really in the dark – we had no idea about what was going on, except that there had been an explosion of cases of omicron in South Africa,” Fauci said on “State of the Union.” “So when the ban was put on, it was to give us time to figure out what was going on.”
“Now that we have more and more information about cases in our own country and worldwide, we’re looking at that very carefully on a daily basis,” Fauci continued. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to lift that ban in a quite reasonable period of time.”
Fauci added that officials felt “very badly” about the “hardship” the travel ban may have created for the southern African countries.
One of the encouraging signs Fauci cited is that the severity of omicron has not yet matched its clearly increased transmissibility.
While cases have severely spiked in the past two weeks, with a nearly vertical climb in daily new cases, South Africa has yet to report a similar spike in hospitalizations or deaths, The New York Times reported. Officials need a few more weeks to observe any possible change in these numbers, but Fauci urged optimistic caution over the omicron.