The most depressing thing about the Omicron variant is the predictable overreaction to Covid-19’s latest manifestation. Travel restrictions are back in vogue. From Friday, the State will demand that vaccinated arrivals also have proof of negative virus tests.
Meanwhile, Government plans to railroad through a revival of sweeping powers for itself, without any evidence yet they are needed, including its notorious hotel quarantines, which undid decades of taxpayer-funded efforts to sell the Republic as a welcoming holiday destination.
The only comfort is that our State is not alone in reinstating damaging bans. Willie Walsh, once chief executive of Aer Lingus and British Airways owner, International Airlines Group, now head of the International Air Transport Association, this week argued that after almost two years, we should have moved past knee-jerk responses.
His latest blog highlights a few experts who agree, including Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation's health emergencies programme, who points out that South Africa has obtained important information which the WHO is assessing.
Meanwhile, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention correctly states that travel bans have yielded no meaningful outcome in the face of new variants. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute of Global Health goes further, saying "there is very little utility in these kinds of bans" adding that the Omicron horse has already bolted.
Blunter still is Amesh Adalja, senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health and Security, who says “travel bans don’t work”.
Most of this is a reaction to bans on travellers from vast swathes of Africa, where Omicron was discovered. But it illustrates the point, political responses ignore the reality. That is, Covid-19 is endemic and new variants will arise, so the risks must be managed. That’s much harder than banning travellers or needlessly assuming autocratic power.
Our problem is that despite our location on an island, where ties to the outside world are vital, Government has taken a bizarre stance on travel through the pandemic, that has damaged previously thriving businesses. Repeating that will make things much worse.
Walsh points out that “the human and economic cost of deconnecting the world may never truly be calculated”. He’s talking on global terms, but in this State, airlines and hospitality businesses already know the cost only too well.