WHO: Travel bans will only delay entry of Omicron variant

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 3) — Stricter travel restrictions will only help countries "buy time" to prepare for new surges amid the threat of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Government leaders in the Western Pacific region are urged to take advantage of the period before Omicron arrives in their countries, representatives of the WHO said.

"Border controls can be used to delay entry of the virus and buy time, but every country and community must prepare for new surges," Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, WHO Regional Emergency Director, said during a virtual briefing on Friday.

WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai shared the same sentiment, saying governments should not just rely on border controls.

"The data suggest that Omicron has higher transmissibility. What's important is to prepare and be ready for the next surge," Kasai said.

Both Kasai and Olowokure said there is no need yet to change the current approach against COVID-19 as they pushed to ramp up vaccine coverage and the strict implementation of health protocols.

"We know that Omicron will eventually come to most of the countries in the region," Olowokure said.

In the Western Pacific, the Omicron variant has so far been detected in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. The WHO Western Pacific Region, headquartered in Manila, covers 37 countries and areas.

The local pandemic response task force earlier said only nations with local Omicron cases are placed under the Red List. The government is imposing an entry ban on travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy from Nov. 28 until Dec. 15.