Travel bans...what are your thoughts?

So, not sure if there is already a thread on this, but I’ve been watching the antics happening wrt travel bans in Africa, specifically South Africa, with a bit of disbelief. Sure, they were the first to sequence the new variant (Omicron, not Nu or Xi), but, these rapid travel bans seem kind of stupid and, well, more than a bit racist. I mean, we know…for a fact…that this variant is already in several European countries, and it’s more than possible that they started there or somewhere else and South Africa is just the first country to identify and sequence the new variant. I mean, I was looking at the number of infected in South Africa (all variants) verse, say, Germany…and Germany is a hell of a lot higher. Yet, no travel ban there. This seems a bit like blaming Spain for the Spanish Flu when, really, they were simply the first country to acknowledge they were having an outbreak. Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine blaming Spain for stuff, but this wasn’t one of those things.

I was wondering, am I missing something here? These travel bans seem more politically motivated than actually beneficial or effective, and this latest round seems downright racially motivated. Or, as I said, am I missing something? Why do you think travel bans are appropriate or do you agree they don’t seem to be motivated solely by public health? Or something in-between or something else? So, anything about travel bans…bring it on, let’s discuss.

Given that it seems like most of them are either (a) instituted after the virus in question has undoubtedly already made it into the countries instituting the bans, and/or (b) have carve-outs or exemptions for residents which reduce any possible effectiveness, they’re political theater, instituted by leaders who are trying to make it seem like they are doing something, and trying to calm nervousness among their citizens.

I think this is right. “We have to do something!” “This is something!” “Do that!”

I’d also note that the ban in the United States only went in to effect three days after omicron was declared a variant of concern by the WHO, adding further to the notion that this is a bit of theatre designed to make it look like we are doing SOMETHING about this new issue.

I wonder if the next variant is discovered in Africa or South America, will they be so quick to inform the world?

Yeah, that’s a real concern and one of the things I thought of as well. Because it looks like South Africa (and several other African nations) are being punished (and in reality, ARE being punished as these bans are going to directly impact their economies), going forward especially poorer countries might take the Chinese route and basically just disappear the information and hide what’s going on. Not a good precedent.

Yeah, this just seems dumb – I feel like a lot of the Omicron reaction has basically come down to people overcorrecting and doing the things they thought should have been done with OG Covid-19 or with Delta, without a whole lot of regard for whether those are actually useful things to do right now.

I don’t think travel bans were meant to keep the virus out. But rather to slow it down to give health resources time to prepare for the next wave.

But the South Africans aren’t a hotbed of the variant, they just came up with a method to identify it. The travel ban for South Africa makes no sense as it isn’t really a source of the variant.

I’m actually personally affected by the travel ban since I was planning a trip to Cape Town for me and my son to go visits my parents. A lovely warm and sunny way to spend a January.

In practice it’s the Dubai / Emirates Airlines ban and cancellation of flights that ended the trip since the US ban doesn’t apply to US citizens. Which I think perfectly illustrates the theatrics of it all, as if the virus checks passports before transmission. Since I’m in a charitable mood I’ll chalk it up to travel bans against African nations being cheap from a political/diplomatic capital perspective while bans against European nations, etc. are not. I could be talked into travel bans being useful to buy you a few days of slower transmission but if that was important to you I’m unclear on why you wouldn’t go “all in”. All international travel stopped from any country. This whole “we’ll do it when it only upsets people who don’t matter to us” thing smacks of a lack of sincerity.

I think there are two very different ways of thinking about this question.

The more literal way sees that travel bans, of course, reduce the spread of contagious diseases once they take effect, especially over long distances. The pandemic would have grown far far more slowly if all air travel was immediately banned indefinitely.

But the more practical way, considering how bans are enacted and the political contexts, observes that bans often appear to have somewhat political and sometimes racist motivations, and the way they are done may do little to help contain the spread. If a ban is announced several days before it takes effect, it may actually increase the spread, as everybody hurries to flee an area with known disease before the deadline. Moreover, practically, bans don’t come for free. They have various other impacts. Banning all air travel indefinitely is hardly an option. So the question of whether bans generally, or any specific ban, are a good idea – well, it’s complicated.

Agreed. Travel bans are a delaying tactic only. Actually, everything but vaccines and theraputics is a delaying tactic only. But delaying tactics can be helpful.

I don’t know that that’s known for certain, and it definitely wasn’t known at the time the first travel bans were instituted.

In order for travel bans to be effective, they have to be made pretty fast, often in conditions of uncertainty. If there is a new variant (or disease), having a handful of cases that made it into the country before the ban is way better than having more and more people arrive every day.

In this case, there are major temporal benefits to a delay of Omicron, with Christmas gatherings right around the corner.

That said, travel bans probably should be pretty short. 2 months from now, there will be really no reason to think that any region is any worse for Omicron.

This is how I interpreted it as well. Altho instead of a travel “ban” they could have said they were “suspending travel” from these countries until they could better understand the characteristics of this new variant (transmissibility, lethality, vaccine effectiveness, etc.). Any travel “ban” is reminiscent of bans on travel from selected countries based on their people’s religion, and is more alarming to the general populace than perhaps needed. On one hand “We are banning travel from certain places…” and then OTOH “No need to panic!!” - sends a mixed message.

Also, what if this variant emerged in Texas and other countries banned travel from the US - how would that go over?

Edit: I agree travel bans are mostly theater and end up punishing un-necessarily.

Rather like how “Spanish flu” got its moniker. Both the Allied and Central Powers troops were being decimated (in the original sense) and censored the news figuring they alone were being affected and the other side might launch an attack if it felt it had an advantage. Spain, being a non-belligerent, had no such fears so the early news about this novel horrible disease made it look like it had originated there.

I agree. Needing to be quick about it would also cause it to happen without a lot of thought.

It’s annoying political theater. To have real meaning it would have to be universal and accompanied by actual funding for testing and elimination locally. But we know the latest variant is already basically everywhere, and there’s no political will to fight for the additional/improved measures that might have a chance of ending the pandemic, although the chance is microscopic compared to having done it months ago.

I think it’s to placate the masses who need to ‘feel’ protected and officials want to appear, responsive and on top of things. There’s a domino effect I think too. Once one country does it, others follow along. For appearances sake, as above. Even knowing it’s not a fix, or that effective, etc. Claiming now it’s to slow transmissions, while the world learns more of how it’s going to impact everything. I don’t know, but it still feels to me about appearances and keeping the masses on side, and engaged with protocols etc.

I think you’re wrong. When I first heard of the omicron variant, I also heard that it had become the dominant strain in South Africa. This article supports what I heard.

Has it been detected as the dominant strain elsewhere?

So, yes, I think the travel ban is a good idea to slow the spread into the US, so that we can hopefully better prepare for it when it starts to spread though out the country.

I also think we should give South Africa some kind of “reward” for identifying and publicly acknowledging the strain, so that other countries won’t hesitate to do the same.

Considering that much of the information about the Omicron seems to indicate it is a much bigger problem for those who are not vaccinated, a travel ban is not going to do much, as long as the U.S. has a low vaccination rate.

A travel ban only works if the place implementing the ban is uncontaminated and/or isolated. This works/worked somewhat for Australia, New Zealnd and Japan. Not so much for the U.S., who recently retracted the travel bans for non-Americans.

Another tool is vaccinations. The U.S. allows Americans to travel to the U.S. without being vaccinated. Non-Americans must be vaccinated.

If the actual intent of travel bans was to help contain the virus then the US would adopt the same approach several other countries have and require anyone travelling here (including unvaxxed Americans returning from a trip) to quarantine in a hotel or at home for ten days, with stiff sanctions for breaking the quarantine. Since nobody has done this I’m forced to conclude that it’s just more stupid kabuki theater to make some idiots feel safer.