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China

Rep. Marsha Blackburn

Congressional Republicans are dishonestly attacking President Joe Biden's effort to slow the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant, reviving debunked accusations from the 2020 campaign. They are still false.

On Friday, Biden signed a temporary suspension of some travel from southern African nations where the new omicron variant has been most prevalent. The emergency action, he wrote, was an effort to "swiftly and aggressively to prevent further spread of the disease."

But Republican lawmakers who cheered a similar travel restriction on some visitors from China — implemented by then-President Trump in early 2020 — have attacked Biden's efforts. Trump boasted — without evidence — that his orders saved 2 million lives.

"Almost two years ago, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris called President Trump a racist for protecting Americans by restricting travel for those entering the U.S. as the pandemic began," tweeted Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn on Sunday "Now, they're doing the exact same thing."

"When President Trump took bold and decisive action in February 2020 to impose travel restrictions into the United States from coronavirus hot spots, Joe Biden attacked him, calling this decision a disgrace and xenophobic," claimed House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik.

North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn retweeted former President Donald Trump's leadership PAC, which wrote that "Joe Biden is now using the Trump policies he once criticized. HYPOCRITE!"

Throughout the 2020 campaign, Trump repeatedly complained that Biden had opposed those travel restrictions and called them xenophobic.

"I had Biden calling me xenophobic," he claimed in a March 2020 Fox News appearance. "He called me a racist, because of the fact that he felt it was a racist thing to stop people from China coming in."

In their first debate last September, Trump scolded Biden, saying, "I closed it and you said, 'He's xenophobic. He's a racist and he's xenophobic,' because you didn't think I should have closed our country."

But independent fact-checkers debunked these statements, noting that Biden warned in late January 2020 that it was "no time for Donald Trump's record of hysteria xenophobia, hysterical xenophobia, and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science" and criticized Trump's racist use of the term "Chinese virus," but never attacked the travel restrictions.

Indeed Biden's campaign said last April that he "supports travel bans that are guided by medical experts, advocated by public health officials, and backed by a full strategy."

Rep. Barry Moore (R-AL) tweeted Monday, "President Biden has banned travel from 8 countries in Africa due to the new COVID variant. But when President Trump did the same thing, it was a 'disgrace.'"

He linked to a Feb. 1, 2020 tweet from Biden, criticizing Trump's travel restrictions on people from six African countries with significant Muslim populations. But that "Africa Ban" had nothing to do with the coronavirus and was — according to Trump — entirely about addressing those nation's alleged "deficiencies in sharing terrorist, criminal, or identity information."

On Saturday, Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) — Trump's former White House doctor and his unsuccessful pick to be secretary of veterans zffairs — baselessly suggested that the omicron variant is just a Democratic ploy to stay in power. "Here comes the MEV - the Midterm Election Variant! They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election - but we're not going to let them!"

One expert told the Washington Post that it's possible Biden's ban might slow the variants spread in the United States by days or weeks, as the public health community rushes to understand its impact. But some public health experts warn that travel bans like this can undermine scientific transparency and African leaders say they are not justified by science.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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Travellers line up for Covid tests at Johannesburg Airport on November 27, 2021

Washington (AFP) - The United States praised South Africa Saturday for quickly identifying the new Covid strain called Omicron and sharing this information with the world -- a barely veiled slap at China's handling of the original outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with South Africa's international relations and cooperation minister, Naledi Pandor, and they discussed cooperation on vaccinating people in Africa against COVID-19, the State Department said.

"Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world," the statement said.

First under Donald Trump and now under President Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly criticized China as not being forthcoming on the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world. It has now killed nearly 5.2 million people.

In August of this year the US intelligence community released a report in which it said it could not reach a firm conclusion on the origins of the virus -- among animals or in a research lab were top scenarios -- because China had not helped in the US probe.

The U.S. has also accused Beijing of waiting too long before sharing crucial information about the outbreak, saying that a more transparent handling could have helped halt the spread of the virus.

After the U.S. report was issued this summer, Biden accused Beijing of stonewalling.

"The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them," Biden said in a statement after that unclassified report came out.

"Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world."

The pandemic is one of many sources of acute tension today in US-China relations, as the two great powers clash over trade, human rights, and the prickly issue of Taiwan, among other matters.