The bias towards shutting borders is not as wise as people think
Why have world governments panicked in response to the Omicron Covid variant, which the doctor who discovered it has said produces very mild symptoms?
Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that the South African government was seeking to stop imports of Pfizer Covid vaccines — just two days later, the WHO declared Omicron a “variant of concern”, thereby shattering the Southern African tourist industry.
Consequently, Southern African economies (already on their knees after the last 20 months) will be devastated. Tourism accounts not only for 7% of outright GDP across Africa, but also a large percentage of allied service industries. As Busi Mavuso of the Business Leadership South Africa forum put it:
The impacts of this closure will be catastrophic on the continent. In 2020, 12.4 million jobs were lost in Africa’s travel and tourism sector as a result of the Covid shutdowns. And in The Gambia, for example, tour guides said they had lost between 60 and 90% of their earnings.
With this bias towards aggressive shut-your-borders policies, with “Independent SAGE” as usual agitating for the severest restrictions, world governments continue to be blind to the impacts of the shutdown model on poor countries. (As well as the initial evidence that suggests that the Omicron variant may even be milder than Delta.)
The Omicron response follows the pattern of discriminatory Covid policies, where segregating the unvaccinated means disproportionately targeting large numbers of members of minority communities, who for reasons of historic racism are suspicious of the Covid vaccines — and where vaccines are hoarded through authoritarian mandates in the West, allowing few to be distributed to at-risk groups in poor countries.
The Omicron variant thus teaches us more about the irreconcilable contradictions of Western governance in the Covid era. Racism is taboo, but Covid policies perpetuate it. The migration crisis is lamented, but Covid measures are exacerbating it. Impoverishing poor countries on a massive scale is a recipe for a greater public health and migration crisis than anything brought on by Covid: we are left to look on as governments create the authoritarian playbook with which they now feel entitled to deal with the disastrous consequences of their own policies.
Toby Green’s book on the Covid Crisis is The Covid Consensus: The New Politics of Global Inequality (Hurst).