Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Chief Medical Advisor to the President, delivers an update on the Omicron COVID-19 variant during the daily press briefing at the White House on December 01, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • On Monday, the US restricted travel from eight countries in southern Africa due to the new variant.
  • South Africa had an existing surveillance system for viral diseases that helped it detect Omicron.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said the Biden administration would have been criticised if a ban was not enacted.
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On the latest episode of Spotify's "Science Vs." podcast, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, talked with host Wendy Zukerman about his views on the Biden administration's recent travel ban, which he said should be rolled back.

The US began to restrict travel from eight countries in southern Africa on Monday because of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, which was labeled as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organisation after its detection by South African scientists on 11 November.

However, the location of its initial detection does not necessarily indicate that the variant originated in South Africa. The country already had a robust surveillance system in place for tracking viral diseases and genetic mutations like HIV, Ebola, and tuberculosis, which put it in a strong position to monitor variants of Covid-19.

"When we first saw and heard about what was going on in South Africa, we really were blind. We had no idea what was going to happen. And one of the things we wanted to do, which was understandable, was to best as possible protect the American public," Fauci told Zukerman.

While Omicron's origins remain unknown, cases have been found in several countries, including the UK, US, Netherlands, and Belgium.

"We did not know it was in other countries at the time of the ban. It looked like it was just in South Africa," Fauci said. "But right now, you're right, it is out there, so it's going to spread no matter what. So that's the reason why I would feel that, hopefully, we can pull back on that ban as quickly as possible."

Still, Fauci maintained that if a ban had not been instituted, people would have been upset and "crucified" the administration for its inaction.

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