Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with the Axios AM and PM newsletters. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on the day's biggest business stories

Subscribe to the Axios Closer newsletter for insights into the day’s business news and trends and why they matter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios Pro Rata

Dive into the world of dealmakers across VC, PE and M&A with Axios Pro Rata. Delivered daily to your inbox by Dan Primack and Kia Kokalitcheva.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sports news worthy of your time

Binge on the stats and stories that drive the sports world with the Axios Sports newsletter. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tech news worthy of your time

Get our smart take on technology from the Valley and D.C. with Axios Login. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Get the inside stories

Get an insider's guide to the new White House with Axios Sneak Peek. Sign up for free.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Denver news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Des Moines news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Des Moines newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Twin Cities news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Tampa Bay news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Charlotte news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Nashville news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Nashville newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Columbus news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Columbus newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Dallas news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Dallas newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Austin news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Austin newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Atlanta news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Atlanta newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Philadelphia news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Philadelphia newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top Chicago news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios Chicago newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Sign up for Axios NW Arkansas

Stay up-to-date on the most important and interesting stories affecting NW Arkansas, authored by local reporters

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Want a daily digest of the top DC news?

Get a daily digest of the most important stories affecting your hometown with the Axios DC newsletter.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The travel bans and border closures prompted by the Omicron variant likely won't fully prevent its spread, but that won't stop countries from leaning on the measures.

Why it matters: The rapid speed at which countries turned to travel bans with the emergence of Omicron indicates border controls will increasingly become a weapon against infectious disease — whether or not public health experts agree they are effective.

Where it stands: 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures as of Nov. 28 in response to the Omicron variant, the World Health Organization reported on Tuesday.

  • That includes the U.S., which banned travel from South Africa — where the variant was first identified — and seven other countries in southern Africa.
  • Other countries have gone further, with Japan and Israel banning all foreigners from entering their borders.

What they're saying: It's long been gospel among public health experts that targeted travel bans are unjust and largely counterproductive, which was one reason why the WHO did not recommend travel restrictions when COVID-19 was first declared a public health emergency in 2020.

  • Dutch health authorities announced on Tuesday they had found Omicron in virus samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23, days before South Africa first identified the variant, indicating it was already spreading in western Europe.
  • Despite the U.S. travel ban, the first known U.S. Omicron case was detected in California on Wednesday.
  • "Putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity," the WHO's regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said on Nov. 28. "COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions."

Yes, but: The full story on travel controls is more mixed, and there is evidence that reducing the pace of international travel can at least slow the spread of a new variant — which matters at a moment when scientists still need time to understand the full extent of the Omicron threat.

  • A study published earlier this year found international travel measures put in place early in the pandemic were able to slow the initial export of cases outside of China.
  • "Travel bans, when you have a highly transmissible virus, never completely ... prevent it from coming into the country," Anthony Fauci told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday. "But what you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared."

Between the lines: Truly restrictive travel controls can all but extinguish even a virus as contagious as SARS-CoV-2.

  • The countries that have most effectively minimized COVID-19 cases — like Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China — have gone well beyond targeted travel bans to near full border closures.
  • Scientists in China touted a study over the weekend claiming the country could be facing more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections per day if it dropped its zero-tolerance travel controls.
  • But those controls have come with severe economic and social costs, and the longer the pandemic goes on, the harder it can be to maintain those measures.

The big picture: The effectiveness of travel bans may be secondary to the fact that they are a tool that governments can put in place — and just as importantly, be seen to put in place — relatively easily. Once they've been deployed, they can and will be deployed again.

  • Leaders may struggle to get their citizens to vaccinate or take other measures, but borders are one area where they still maintain control.
  • Fewer than one-third of Americans traveled outside the country before the pandemic, underscoring why travel bans are a relatively easy political lift — most people aren't directly affected by them.

What to watch: What really matters with the Omicron travel bans is what countries do once scientists have determined just how much of a danger the new variant poses.

  • Should Omicron turn out to be less dangerous than the existing Delta variant, there should be no reason to continue targeted bans.
  • But one lesson of COVID-era travel controls is that they tend to be much harder to lift than they are to impose — it took more than 16 months before the U.S.-Canada land border fully reopened to vaccinated travelers.
  • And unlike at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries now have more selective tools to screen all visitors with tests — a move the Biden administration is reportedly considering — which could allow safer travel.

The bottom line: We're entering a future where governments will be much quicker to turn to travel controls in the face of infectious disease — so get that fully refundable ticket.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: America struggles to keep schools open — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.

Updated 13 mins ago - Politics & Policy

British national named in Colleyville synagogue standoff

A law enforcement vehicle sits near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue on Jan. 16. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

British national Malik Faisal Akram took four people hostage at a Texas synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, the FBI said in a statement.

The latest: Greater Manchester Police, in Northwest England, tweeted on Sunday night that officers had arrested and detained two teenagers in South Manchester for questioning in relation to the siege in Colleyville, Texas, "as part of the ongoing investigation into the attack."