United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres decried nations like the U.S. that have imposed travel restrictions on specific countries and regions over the Omicron COVID-19 variant on Wednesday.
President Joe Biden’s administration — along with the U.K. and numerous other countries — imposed a travel ban on South Africa and other neighboring countries on Monday. South Africa was the first country to announce the discovery of the Omicron variant among its population. Many have criticized the travel restrictions as ineffective, however, given that countries in Europe, Asia and even North America had already reported cases of the variant by the time the ban went into effect. (RELATED: Psaki Says Biden Was Criticizing ‘Xenophobic’ Tweet From Trump, Not Travel Restrictions)
Guterres said the restrictions are “not only deeply unfair and punitive – they are ineffective.”
“We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable,” he added, according to Reuters.
Two cases of the Omicron variant were reported in the U.K. on Saturday, two days before Biden’s travel ban on African countries went into effect. Biden said he made the decision to impose the ban thanks to advice from medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.
“The reason for the immediate travel ban is there were a significant number of cases, unlike any other country in the world,” Biden said Monday. “We needed time to give people an opportunity to say, get that vaccination now before it – it’s gonna move around the world. I think it’s almost inevitable … that that strain is here in the United States.”
The U.S. found its first case of the Omicron variant in California on Wednesday. Biden has said that lockdowns are off the table “for now,” but urged Americans to take precautions.
“If people are vaccinated and wear their masks, there’s no need for the lockdown,” he said Monday. (RELATED: WHO Admits It Skipped Over ‘Xi Variant’ To Avoid ‘Causing Offence’)
There is so far little evidence to indicate whether the Omicron variant is particularly dangerous compared to the original COVID-19 or Delta variant.