Monday August 15, 2022

Travel ban

December 09, 2021

History’s record of humanity’s response to plagues, pandemics and disease is one of isolation, marginalisation, and exclusion. The infected shall be kept away and sealed off from the healthy and wealthy. This, inevitably, results in partiality, prejudice and distinctions. Omicron, having been pumped with the prestige of a potential Covid super variant, has given dozens of countries grounds to stop travel, halt movement and stem flights. As always, these measures have been applied unevenly and hypocritically.

First reported by South Africa, the country now has the distinction of being, along with a range of other Southern African countries, pariahs in terms of international travel. Little wonder that individuals such as the Chair of the South African Medical Association, Dr Angelique Coetzee are alarmed at what was essentially a replay of the initial global response to Covid-19.

In Coetzee’s judgment, Omicron, while seemingly harder to detect, does not deserve a ladle full of fear. “Looking at the mildness of the symptoms that we are seeing, currently there is no reason for panicking, as we don’t see severely ill patients.” The prevailing “clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days, with the headache and body aches and pains.” She also noted instances of a scratchy throat and dry coughing. South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla similarly reported that his country’s “clinicians have not witnessed severe illness. Part of it may be because the majority of those who are positive are young people.”

Vaccine manufacturers such as Moderna have been quick off the mark in sowing seeds of mild panic, claiming that existing Covid-19 vaccines will be less effective against Omicron. According to the company’s chief executive, Stephane Bancel, the number of Omicron mutations on the spike protein – the part of the virus famed for infecting human cells – and the speed of transmissibility, suggested an imminent ‘material drop’ in effectiveness.

This less than responsible prediction, in the absence of cold hard trials and laboratory results, was marvellous for speculators and someone was obviously making a packet on the sliding of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which slipped 652 points (1.9 percent) on November 30. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also fell 1.9 percent and 1.6 percent respectively. The World Health Organisation has never been partial to the idea of a travel ban in the face of disease. But it finds itself in a difficult position. Closing the borders can inflict harm; but not encouraging closures might result in retrospective condemnation from governments who fear their populace and chances of survival at the ballot box.

Excerpted: ‘Omicron and the Travel Ban Itch’