The Data Point: Omicron variant spurs travel bans worldwide

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The Data Point: Omicron variant spurs travel bans worldwide
© Provided by NBC News

The southern tip of Africa is feeling the brunt of the Covid omicron travel bans.

As of Tuesday, 33 countries — including the United States — have issued new travel bans or restrictions in the wake of the new variant, news about which was revealed just four days ago. Travel to or from South Africa, the country whose scientists first disclosed the new variant, is affected in each of the restrictions. Travel to or from Botswana, which also has confirmed cases of the variant, is restricted by 31 countries.

Most of the restrictions are aimed at preventing entry of people living in the countries on the list, while allowing some exceptions for returning citizens or permanent residents. Three countries — Japan, Israel and Morocco — have issued complete international travel bans since Friday.

The World Health Organization has criticized the travel bans in response to omicron, with its regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, writing in a statement that such bans “may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”

The omicron variant, which contains a number of genetic mutations compared to previous Covid strains, has been found in dozens of countries around the world. It has not yet been confirmed in the United States, but National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Anthony Fauci on Saturday told the “TODAY” show that cases are probably already in the country.

Scientists say it’s not yet clear if the new variant is more contagious or deadly than previous strains.

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