The New Omicron Variant Is Sparking Demand for the Same Old COVID-19 Restrictions
A new COVID-19 variant is sparking calls for the same old pandemic restrictions and mandates. It’s been less than a week since the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled the omicron variant of the virus, first identified in South Africa, as a “variant of concern.” Politicians and public health officials have snapped into action with advice—and requirements—to mask up and vaccinate.
On Monday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio urged even fully vaccinated New Yorkers to return to wearing masks indoors.
“It’s time to remind people and double down and say, ‘Even if you started to move away from masks before, we’re telling you to get those masks back on now,'” the mayor said at a press conference.
We remain vigilant in New York City as we prepare for the #OmicronVariant. We’ve fought back against this virus before and we have the tools in place already to do it again.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) November 29, 2021
An advisory issued by New York City’s health commissioner urges, but doesn’t require, people to wear masks in building lobbies, offices, and retail stores.
De Blasio also expanded the city’s vaccine mandate to include all staff at city-funded day cares, which the Post reports covers about 102,000 workers.
National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins has issued similar advice at the national level, telling CNN‘s Dana Bash on Sunday that people should continue to wear masks when indoors around the unvaccinated and continue to socially distance.
“We have to use every kind of tool in our toolbox to keep [Omicron] from getting in a situation that makes this worse,” he said.
Over in the U.K., masks are once again being required in most public settings in England, a measure Prime Minister Boris Johnson said would “buy us time in the face of this new variant.”
President Joe Biden has already issued a travel ban for non-citizens and non–permanent residents coming from South Africa and a number of other southern African nations.
New York Times columnist Zeynep Tufecki has called for travel to be restricted from any countries where the omicron variant is known to be spreading, and for those restrictions to apply to U.S. citizens as well. She also recommended stricter testing and quarantine requirements for inbound passengers.
Meanwhile in The Washington Post, Leana Wen, a public health professor at George Washington University, similarly recommended a quarantine and testing regime for all international travelers. She also urged the Biden administration to impose a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel and interstate train travel, and for localities to bring back mask mandates.
Biden on Monday urged people get vaccinated, get a booster shot, and mask up. So long as people did those things, “there is no need for the lockdown” he announced.
The president said that he was also working closely with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to swiftly approve and rollout a modified vaccine if necessary.
Vaccines have been the most effective tool for protecting people from the worst consequences of COVID-19 thus far. Hopefully, they will remain effective or can be easily modified
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