World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that new travel bans initiated against South Africa and others where the new omicron variant is present, is “deeply concerning,” and unjustly penalizes those countries that have reported the new strain.
“It is deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing,” he said during a televised press briefing. “Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of omicron, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
He said that at least 23 countries in five of the six WHO regions have reported cases of the new strain and expects to see that number grow.
“It should not surprise us, this is what viruses do,” he said. “And it is what this virus will continue to do as long as we allow it to continue spreading.”
With the emergence of the new variant last week, President Joe Biden restricted travel from South Africa and seven other countries to try and prevent the virus entering the United States.
On Wednesday, however, the first documented case of the omicron variant was reported in California, the White House confirmed.
“As the President said last Friday, it was only a matter of time before the first case of Omicron was detected in the U.S. We are prepared to meet this challenge with science and speed,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in a statement. “The President’s medical team continues to believe that existing vaccines will provide some level of protection against severe illness from Omicron, and individuals who have gotten boosters have even stronger protection. As such, we urge all adults to get their booster shots and to get themselves and their kids vaccinated, if they haven’t already.”
According to The Washington Post, the patient has mild symptoms and is improving while in self-quarantine.
“As we continue to learn more about Omicron, there is no reason to panic but we should remain vigilant,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom posted on Twitter Wednesday. “We know how to protect ourselves from COVID – get vaccinated, get your booster and wear a mask.”
During his press conference, the WHO’s Tedros called on the nations of the world to react with “rational and proportional” measures regarding the new variant, including the screening of travelers before and after traveling.