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Ex-FDA commissioner: U.S. must 'be clear' on purpose of COVID-19 travel restrictions

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Ex-FDA commissioner: U.S. must 'be clear' on purpose of COVID-19 travel restrictions
Former FDA Commissioner and current Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb on Sunday said the cause for U.S. travel bans from places as India related to the COVID-19 pandemic must be more clear. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

May 2 (UPI) -- Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday the United States must provide clearer reasons for COVID-19-related travel bans.

Appearing on CBS News Face the Nation, Gottlieb, who currently sits on the board of Pfizer, said he was not sure what the Biden administration was "hoping to accomplish" in terms of preventing the introduction of COVID-19 into the United States after it announced plans to ban travel from India beginning Tuesday.

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"These travel restrictions could serve a purpose, but we need to be clear about what that purpose is right now," said Gottlieb. "We still have restrictions in place against travel from China and the U.K. 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."

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that the policy was implemented "in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating" in India.

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India has reported a record surge with 800,000 new cases over two days bringing its overall virus totals to 19,557,457 cases and 215,542 deaths compared with 32,409,214 cases and 576,959 deaths in the United States, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.

Gottlieb, however, said it is not the case that variants are appearing in one part of the world and traveling to other countries, but rather the virus is undergoing "convergent evolution" with the same variants emerging in various parts of the world spontaneously."

"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. They just haven't gotten a foothold here, in part because we've been vaccinating our public."

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The United States has administered a total of 243,463,471 vaccine doses with 44% of the total population receiving at least one dose, including 55.8% of people age 18 and older, and 31.2% of the total population fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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California leads the nation in COVID-19 cases and deaths with a total of 3,642,480 infections and 60,748 fatalities after reporting 2,254 cases and 123 deaths on Sunday. The state reopened its Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks to residents on Friday.

To date, California has administered 30,412,414 COVID-19 vaccine doses and 12,806,167 people -- 40.2% of its population -- are fully vaccinated.

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Texas reported 919 new cases Sunday for the nation's second-highest total at 2,473,679, while its death toll rose by 25 to 49,303. A total of 18,487,360 vaccine doses have been distributed in Texas with 8,000,995 people, or 49.64% of the state's population, fully vaccinated.

Florida ranks third in the nation with 2,242,778 total cases after adding 3,841 infections Sunday, while also reporting 29 resident deaths to bring its toll to 35,268. The state has administered 14,665,875 vaccine doses and 6,328,296 people are fully vaccinated.

New York reported 2,849 new cases and 33 deaths on Sunday, bringing its case total to 2,039,068 -- the fourth highest in the nation -- while also ranking second in deaths with 52,309 since the start of the pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that the statewide positivity rate dropped to 1.49% on Saturday, the first time it has been lower than 1.5% since Oct. 25.

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"Every single day, New York State is moving forward in the footrace between the infection rate and the vaccination rate. More New Yorkers are getting vaccinated and hospitalizations are declining which is good news. but we need New Yorkers to stay vigilant to make sure we don't lose any of the progress we've made," he said.

New York has administered 15,643,329 vaccine doses and 6,955,111 people, or 34.9% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.

Illinois reported 1,860 new COVID-19 cases, ranking fifth in the nation with a total of 1,339,728 infections, and added 27 deaths to bring its death toll to 22,019. The state has administered 9,393,137 vaccine doses and 4,110,924 people, or 32.27%, of the population has been fully vaccinated.

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