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Tuesday, December 7, 2021 Leer en Español

Fauci Admits Africa Travel Ban Was Passed “in the Dark” and Says Government Is Reevaluating the Policy

The government shut down travel from several African nations—a policy the head of the UN described as “travel apartheid”—for a variant of the virus that has not accounted for a single confirmed death in the entire world.

Image Credit: CNN-YouTube

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical advisor, on Sunday said the government is reviewing its travel ban on South Africa and numerous African countries, a policy that has sparked worldwide criticism.

Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper, who noted the ban applies to African countries but not to the three dozen or so other countries where the so-called Omicron variant is present, Fauci said he hopes to see the ban lifted “within a reasonable amount of time.”

“Jake, that ban was done at a time when we were really in the dark,” Fauci explained. “We had no idea what was going on except this seemed to have been an explosion of cases in South Africa.”

Fauci continued his discussion on the ban, passed last month on fears of the new COVID-19 variant:

“When the ban was put on, it was put to give us time to figure out what’s going on. Now, as you mentioned, as we get more and more information about cases in our own country and worldwide, we are looking at that very carefully on a daily basis. Hopefully, we will lift that ban within a reasonable period of time. We all feel very badly about the hardship that that might have put upon not only South Africa but the other African countries. For that reason, on a daily basis, we are reevaluating that policy.”

Travel Apartheid?

Government officials are not known for admitting mistakes, but this is about as close to a mia culpa as you’ll find.

While it’s doubtful that Fauci would use the word “mistake,” he admits the government imposed a harmful ban on travel even though the government was “in the dark” as to how far the new variant had spread and had little idea how dangerous it actually was.

Indeed, it’s unclear what precisely the ban was supposed to achieve, since, as some pointed out, government officials conceded the Omicron variant would make its way to the US regardless of what actions the government took. (In earlier interviews, Fauci said he was simply trying to “buy time.”) 

Additionally, it turns out the travel ban was imposed despite the fact that the Omicron variant appears far less deadly than other COVID variants. In fact, as The Guardian recently reported, the Omicron variant “has been detected in at least 38 countries but no deaths have yet been reported, the World Health Organization has said, amid warnings that it could damage the global economic recovery.”

That’s right. The US government shut down travel from African nations—a policy the head of the United Nations described as “travel apartheid”—for a variant of the virus that has not accounted for a single confirmed death in the entire world.

Travel Ban Deja Vu

In light of these facts, not to mention racially charged accusations of “travel apartheid,” it’s no surprise the Biden administration is scrambling to reverse its travel ban policy.

It’s also worth noting that, as candidates, Biden and Kamala Harris excoriated then President Trump over his own futile attempts to stop the spread of the coronavirus through travel restrictions, particularly his early crackdown on travel from China.

As the Washington Post notes, Trump’s claims that his restrictions saved “millions” of lives simply don’t withstand scrutiny.

“Restricting flights from China did nothing to prevent the virus from arriving from other parts of the world,” the Post noted, adding that the restrictions appeared designed more for politics than public health. “Genetic analyses have shown that the large epidemic that unfolded in New York was linked to travelers from Europe.”

The exact same things can be said of Biden’s restrictions, which were implemented for a variant of the virus that (fortunately) appears to be far less deadly.

Salim Abdool Karim, South Africa’s top epidemiologist. said the policy made little sense. 

“It’s outrageous that South Africa and southern Africa is being punished for having good surveillance,” said Abdool Karim. “This kind of early knee-jerk reaction to block travel is probably going to slow the seeding slightly at best, but will probably have little if any impact.” 

A Lesson on Knowledge

If the government’s most recent attempt to combat the coronavirus seem arbitrary, ham-fisted, and — frankly — stupid, it should come as little surprise. There’s a perception that politicians and bureaucrats are somehow omniscient, that they possess some special knowledge that the rest of the world does not.

Alas, this belief is simply not true. As the Nobel Prize prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek pointed out long ago, central planners suffer from the same knowledge limitations as everyone else.

“The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess,” Hayek said in The Use of Knowledge in Society.

Hayek noted that “it is almost heresy to suggest that scientific knowledge is not the sum of all knowledge,” but he nevertheless contended that it was beyond question that some knowledge was not scientific in nature, particularly “the knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place.”

It was for this reason that Hayek believed it was better to allow individuals to use local knowledge to make decisions for themselves instead of deferring such decision-making to central planners.

“The whole acts as one market, not because any of its members survey the whole field, but because their limited individual fields of vision sufficiently overlap so that through many intermediaries the relevant information is communicated to all,” Hayek wrote.

Unfortunately, throughout the pandemic, governments have imposed central planning instead, foregoing the collective knowledge of markets. The results have been disastrous.

When Dr. Fauci says the government instituted its travel ban “in the dark,” he’s not wrong.

Hayek would tell the good doctor that this is how virtually all of his decisions have been reached during this pandemic—and it’s precisely why government bureaucrats and politicians should not be given such extraordinary powers in the first place.

  • Jonathan Miltimore is the Senior Creative Strategist of at the Foundation for Economic Education.