With Scant Information on Omicron, Biden Turned to Travel Ban to Buy Time
By the time President Biden was briefed on the emergence of a fast-moving new Covid variant on the morning after Thanksgiving, he had a choice to make — and little information to base it on.
In a secure conference call from a vacation compound overlooking Nantucket Harbor, the president listened as his health advisers told him that the highly mutated virus was far more concerning than other variants they had seen in recent months. It spread twice as fast as the dominant Delta variant and had the potential to evade treatments and vaccines.
Banning travel from southern Africa, where the variant was discovered last week, would not stop the coronavirus from finding its way to the United States, the officials told Mr. Biden, even though Britain and several other countries had announced similar restrictions. But the measures might slow the spread.
During the 30-minute briefing, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s top medical adviser for the coronavirus, and other health officials acknowledged how little they knew about the threat, according to White House officials and others familiar with the discussion. But they concluded that even a potentially marginal benefit from a travel ban was worth the criticism that it was likely to generate from the affected countries, the officials said. Better to be criticized for something you do, rather than for something you don’t do.