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The Daily Showdown

Trevor Noah, a South African, explains why the Omicron-fueled Southern Africa travel ban is 'total bulls--t'

"For most of 2021, the world has been fighting off various COVID variants," Trevor Noah said on Monday's Daily Show. And just when we thought we were getting Delta under control, "last week scientists in South Africa announced that they discovered a new variant, and what they saw is freaking people out."

The big concern about the Omicron variant is the alarming number of mutations to its spike protein, Noah said, but "right now, basically all we know about this strain is that it's called Omicron," and "even the name of the virus has a complicated story." The World Health Organization skipped Nu and Xi to get to Omicron, he said, and passing over Xi in particular "really shows you the clout that China has. Because the World Health Organization is like, 'Uh, we don't want to offend one guy in China.' Meanwhile, Greece is over here, like, 'What?!? You stole our whole alphabet, malaka!'"

And even though it will be a week or two before we know how contagious and dangerous Omicron is, the U.S. and other countries wasted no time banning travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries. "And as a South African — who does not have the variant! — I think this travel ban is total bulls--t," Noah said. We don't know where Omicron started, and "we don't know how long it's been around. It's everywhere, from Hong Kong to Israel to Spain, so why aren't you banning travel from all those countries, too?"

"Maybe America is buying itself a couple of weeks before it gets overrun with Omicron, but don't forget about the costs of this action," Noah said. "Because you do realize that other countries are paying attention, and they realize that if they're going to get punished for telling the world about new variants, they're gonna stop telling the world whenever their scientists discover new variants."

Maybe Noah, as a South African, is less than impartial, but Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease and vaccine expert at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, agreed that the African travel bans are "so demoralizing." Variants develop in large, unvaccinated populations, so "I feel the people in Southern Africa are paying for this twice," he said. "One, they're not vaccinated, and now we're going to punish them further in implementing travel restrictions, which we already know don't work. They haven't worked this entire epidemic, why would they work now?"