Simon Ateba of Today News Africa began shouting over Psaki as she tried to call on Voice of America’s Patsy Widakuswara, at one point directing ire at the press secretary: “You are saying something that is false.”
“I just answered — Simon, I answered a question on this,” Psaki replied as Ateba attempted to get his question in.
“Let’s let Patsy ask a question,” added Psaki, who later scolded Ateba when he persisted.
“It’s not effective to scream over your colleagues here,” the press secretary retorted. “Let’s — let’s — let Patsy ask the question.”
Ateba was not called on during the briefing and continued to make himself heard as Psaki exited the briefing room. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the incident.
Earlier in the briefing, Psaki was asked why the travel restriction “still makes sense” now that Omicron has been reported in multiple states.
Psaki claimed the call was “not a decision made out of the White House,” but was “based on the recommendation, always of our public health and medical experts.”
“They have advised, several days ago, [for] the president to put in place restrictions on a set of countries where we are seeing the variant — specifically in South Africa — spread to hundreds if not thousands of cases and neighboring countries because of the concern about spread,” she stressed. “We will evaluate every day if those restrictions — any of these restrictions — should be expanded upon.”
Ateba’s objection came one day after he pressed Dr. Anthony Fauci about why the Administration restricted travel to the U.S. from eight countries — when only two of them have reported Omicron cases.
Just before Ateba asked his question of Fauci, Psaki appeared to attempt calling on another reporter.
“There are zero cases of COVID — of Omicron in Zimbabwe, in Namibia, in Lesotho, in Mozambique,” Ateba asked. “What justifies imposing a travel ban on countries that have zero cases of the Omicron variant?”
“You know, that’s a very good question and an important question, and we did struggle with that,” Fauci answered. “But we wanted to see if we could buy time temporarily, so I do hope that this gets sorted out and lifted before it has any significant impact on your country.”
Psaki has repeatedly defended the travel restrictions this week, even as one reporter highlighted the lack of restrictions on travel to European countries where the Omicron variant may have been present before South African scientists revealed its existence to the world.
African leaders and global health officials have slammed travel restrictions in response to Omicron, arguing that they would do more harm to people’s lives and livelihoods than provide protection from the variant.