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Former FDA commissioner said he’s ‘not sure’ about Biden’s India travel ban because COVID-19 variants are already in the US

  • Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he was “not sure” about Biden’s India travel ban.
  • Gottlieb said he didn’t think the ban, slated to begin Tuesday, would be effective because variants are already spreading in the US.
  • India is dealing with an ongoing surge of COVID-19 that has overwhelmed its healthcare system.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb on Sunday cast doubt on President Joe Biden’s looming ban on travel with India as a method for preventing COVID-19 variants from being introduced in the US.

“I’m not sure what we’re hoping to accomplish,” Gottlieb said during an appearance on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “If the goal is to try to prevent the introduction of that new variant 617 that’s circulating in India, I assure you it’s here already.”

“So we’re not going to be able to prevent its introduction,” he added. “These variants aren’t just cropping up in one market and then migrating around the world. They’re cropping up simultaneously in every market.” 

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Gottlieb said this was known as “convergent evolution.” 

“There’s probably a finite number of ways that this virus is going to try to mutate to evade our immunity, and it’s testing us everywhere in the world,” he said. “So the same mutations that are arising in other parts of the world are arising here as well.” 

 

The White House on Friday, citing several variants of the disease, announced it was barring most travel between the US and India because of the virus outbreak in the country. As Insider’s John Haltiwanger previously noted, the travel restriction puts Biden’s actions at odds with his past statements about travel bans, which he previously said would “not stop the coronavirus.” 

Effective Tuesday, the ban will not apply to US citizens or permanent residents. Certain students, academics, and journalists will also be exempt from the travel ban, the US State Department said.

“The CDC advises, based on work by public health and scientific experts, that these variants have characteristics of concern, which may make them more easily transmitted and have the potential for reduced protection afforded by some vaccines,” The White House said Friday in a statement announcing the president had signed the proclamation banning travel.

Gottlieb said the US success in vaccinating its population was likely responsible for preventing the variants from having the same effect they’re having on countries like India, which is reporting more than 300,000 new cases of COVID-19 every day. On Saturday, it became the first country to report more than 400,000 cases in a single day.

“These travel restrictions could serve a purpose, but we need to be clear about what that purpose is right now. We still have restrictions in place against travel from China and the UK,” Gottlieb said Sunday. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense. So I’m not really sure what the overall strategy is around these continued travel restrictions that we have in place.”

About 29% of the US population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data analyzed by Johns Hopkins University. More than 243 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the US, according to the data.

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