COVID-19 VARIANTS

Strong Majority of Adults Back Variety of Public Health Measures in Light of Omicron Variant, Including Travel Restrictions

Support for travel restrictions comes as European health officials have identified cases tied to the omicron variant predating strain’s detection in South Africa

Travelers arrive from international flights at Newark Liberty International Airport on Nov. 30, 2021, in Newark, N.J. The United States, and a growing list of other countries, has restricted flights from southern African countries due to the detection of the COVID-19 omicron variant. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The American public largely backs a slew of measures to safeguard against the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, new Morning Consult polling shows, including travel restrictions that have come under fire from the World Health Organization and from the countries in southern Africa that are subject to the bans.

What you need to know

  • Public health measures to combat the spread of the new omicron variant are popular across the board, with the exception of business and government closures. Most adults favor mostly voluntary measures like strengthening ventilation systems, social distancing and shoring up COVID-19 testing over requiring vaccinations.
  • Meanwhile, 60 percent of adults said they think travel restrictions on countries with confirmed cases of new variants will help stop the spread of the virus in the United States, with Democrats and vaccinated adults more likely than their Republican and unvaccinated counterparts to say as much.
  • The Biden administration and other countries have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries where the variant has been detected. Yet health authorities in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany said that they found COVID-19 cases tied to the omicron variant dating back before South African scientists first identified the strain there on Nov. 24.
  • Notably, 76 percent of adults said it will be important to support efforts to offer COVID-19 vaccines in low-income countries with low vaccination rates. In low-income countries, 7.5 percent of the population was vaccinated as of Nov. 23, according to the WHO, compared with 63.9 percent of people in high-income nations.

What you need to know

  • Unvaccinated adults are more likely than those who have gotten a COVID-19 shot to say concern over the omicron variant is overblown, at 36 percent and 17 percent, respectively. Overall, a 40 percent plurality of adults said the public is showing the right amount of concern over the new variant, which has been detected in 20 countries and territories and named a new variant of concern by the WHO. U.S. health officials have warned that it could be two to three weeks before researchers know how severe the strain is, and how well the existing vaccines protect against it.
  • Despite their lower level of concern overall, 30 percent of unvaccinated adults said that given the identification of the omicron variant, they’d consider getting a COVID-19 vaccine. That share was higher among unvaccinated adults who also said they are worried about the omicron variant, with 48 percent saying they’d consider getting the shot.
  • Within a week of South African researchers’ identification of the omicron variant, 29 percent of U.S. adults said they’d seen, read or heard “a lot” about the new strain, roughly the same share who said as much in December 2020 about reports of a new coronavirus variant circulating in the United Kingdom, which was later dubbed the alpha variant. The findings indicate that nearly a year after the first named variant emerged, public interest in new strains of the virus remains just as high.

 

The poll was conducted Nov. 29-30, 2021, among 2,200 U.S. adults, with a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult