Geneva: The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Tuesday that a complete ban on travel would adversely affect the fight against Omicron, the new covid variant, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
WHO said on a travel advisory that a "blanket" ban on travel could dissuade countries from sharing data about the evolving virus. The Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that it is understandable for countries protecting their citizens against a variant the world is not fully aware of.
But the global response needed to be calm, coordinated and coherent. He urged nations to take rational and proportional risk-reduction measures. However, he added that people who are not vaccinated and vulnerable to the disease, including those over 60 years of age, should avoid travelling to areas where the virus entered community transmission.
WHO's warning came as many countries were rushing to impose curbs, and the first cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant were detected in Latin America. Most countries are targeting southern African nations with the travel ban as the fresh variant was first detected in South Africa.
Dutch authorities reported that Omicron was present in their country before South Africa officially announced its first cases on November 25th, highlighting the likely futility of broad travel restrictions. One of two Dutch test samples of November 19 and 23 has no travel history. WHO believes that Omicron could be resistant to vaccines as well as it is highly transmissible.
Over a dozen countries and territories, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and Portugal, have reported the new variant. On Tuesday, Latin America reported its first two cases; both travelled from South Africa to Brazil. Japan also recorded their first case a day after it had barred all foreign arrivals.
Meanwhile, the United States President Joe Biden said that they would keep the travel bans on south African nations though they did not clarify its duration.
In Asia, Indonesia added Hong Kong to its travel ban list while Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden.
Much is unknown about Omicron, and it could take weeks to determine whether it is vaccine-resistant, and the global fight against Covid is far from over, AFP reports. As countries brace up for another wave, many in Northern Hemisphere, mainly western European countries, have reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing measures, curfews and lockdowns.
Greece has gone ahead with compulsory vaccination for 60 and above ages, while Norway offers booster jabs for all adults. Britain has set a target of two months for delivering boosters to all adults.
In the meantime, in the Southern Hemisphere, the Pacific Island of Fiji has opened itself for tourists on Wednesday, after 615 days of international isolation. Tourism contributes 40 per cent to the country's economy.