The World Health Organization (WHO) has reiterated that travel bans to control Covid-19 are ineffective and will not stop Omicron, urging countries to stick to tried and tested methods.
As the new variant spreads around the world, with evidence suggesting it spreads faster than the Delta variant, WHO said vaccines and mask use would help control its spread.
Scientists are investigating whether Omicron causes more severe disease and whether the current vaccines will protect against it.
Many experts believe that, while Omicron will cause a wave of infection, vaccines will largely protect against severe disease and death.
Dr Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, told reporters that flight bans did not work and were too late “because Omicron is already everywhere.”
According to Dr Catherine Smallwood, senior emergency officer at the WHO Regional Office for Europe, 43 countries in Europe have imposed travel restrictions due to Omicron.
“Disease outbreaks are contained at their source, not at their borders,” she said during a press conference.
“Travel bans, while easily accessible in terms of political decision-making, are ineffective in preventing disease spread.” They are truly ineffective.”
Flight bans and other restrictions, she said, were “unfair” and had economic consequences, “but most importantly, they’re ineffective.”
In terms of vaccines, Dr. Kluge stated that “at least 470,000 lives were directly saved through Covid vaccination” between December 2020 and this month, though this figure could be greatly exaggerated.
“However, it remains to be seen whether the latest Covid-19 variant of concern, Omicron, will be more transmissible and severe,” he added.
According to Dr. Kluge, the evidence on Omicron so far is preliminary, and there is no definitive evidence on how well vaccines would protect people.
He stated that there are “five pandemic stabilisers to keep mortality down,” which include increasing vaccination rates, giving booster shots to the most vulnerable, doubling mask-wearing rates indoors, ventilating crowded spaces, and implementing “rigorous therapeutic protocols for severe cases.”
He also stated that there was a need to avoid both school closures and home learning.