Should US shutdown all travel amidst COVID Omicron variant?
- On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization announced a new COVID variant, Omicron (B.1.1.529), first reported from South Africa on November 24, 2021. Delta was the previous COVID variant.
- Dr. Anthony Fauci said flights from South Africa were in consideration for bans, and the US was working to quickly gather data about the new COVID variant.
- A 2020 IATA Air Passenger Market Analysis report shows COVID-related restrictions reduced air transport revenue by 90% in April 2020, and still down 75% in August 2020. The Airports Council International predicted in July 2021 that the “New Airports Council International (ACI) World data shows the lasting adverse impact of the COVID-19 crisis is forecast to remove an additional five billion passengers by the end of this year compared to the pre-COVID-19 forecast.”
- As of November 26, 2021, 196.2 million people have been vaccinated in the United States which is 59.1% of the population, while 69.7% have had at least one dose.
- Johns Hopkins research shows COVID spikes nationwide have been rising at a higher rate than before the vaccines were available despite more than half the country being fully vaccinated.
Predictably, the inevitable has happened; A new COVID variant has developed. President Biden has ordered air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. COVID and the reaction to it by governments worldwide perpetuates fear and financial havoc across the globe.
The US's initial national shutdowns, not just of air travel but of nearly all commerce for months, arguably had little effect in curbing COVID’s spread. All industries and financial markets were severely affected, as all demographics alike were psychologically damaged. Suicides (among adults and children), crimes, and drug overdoses skyrocketed in 2020. Restricting industry and society is not any less dangerous than COVID viruses.
This is not the first, nor the last, variant since the original COVID outbreak. Variations are possibly due to the intensely fast roll-out of these vaccines, as our society has not been able to acclimate, causing the virus to adapt to and reinfect vaccinated immune systems. Our society should focus on mitigation (learning to live with the virus as we have with the flu), and protecting the elderly and those with certain health conditions.
Looking back on the 1918 flu shows us how it was eventually eradicated. According to medical historian J. Alexander Navarro, 'The end of the pandemic occurred because the virus circulated around the globe, infecting enough people that the world population no longer had enough susceptible people in order for the strain to become a pandemic once again.' In other words, the world achieved 'herd immunity.'
In reacting to the COVID pandemic, it seems many countries did not heed the age-old adage: The cure should not be worse than the disease. Shutting down all air travel will further damage the travel industry generally and the airline industry specifically.
When the pandemic first began, the US took too long before restricting travel. As a result, COVID spread like wildfire in the states, becoming the largest pandemic in 100 years. If the US wants to experience another major outbreak, the resulting shutdown would devastate the US economy and leave more people unemployed. Shutting down travel before the variant reaches the US is a proactive way to protect US citizens and the economy.
As the CDC, WHO, Dr. Fauci and COVID case rate-tracking research recognize, even those who are vaccinated and highly vaccinated communities can spread the virus and its variants. More mutations will come along, and those who aren't vaccinated are more likely to get sick. In addition, despite being approved by the FDA, the COVID-19 vaccines are still fairly new to the vaccine market, which usually take years or decades to create, so it’s impossible to predict how they will perform with new variants. Although the COVID-19 vaccine protects against most variants, there is no way of knowing if this variant will be the exception, and with some calling this one the 'worst ever,' according to The Guardian. While vaccines are wonderful, the best protection from a virus is to avoid exposure altogether.
With the holiday season being a major travel time for most Americans, this is the time of year when it would be easiest for this variant to spread. While many may be upset by another lockdown, this short-term response will save lives and is certainly preferable to another major lockdown as we go into the New Year.