South Africa claimed on Sunday it was being punished for detecting the omicron variant, as more countries responded with travel bans to the disturbing new strain of coronavirus.
The country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has called on states to “urgently” cancel “scientifically unjustified” travel bans linked to a new variant of COVID-19 dubbed omicron.
“We call on all countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our sisterly countries in southern Africa to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” Ramaphosa said in his first remarks since the announcement of the discovery of omicron. “The travel ban is not based on science,” he added.
“The only thing the travel ban will do will be further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to and recover from the pandemic,” he noted. “These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminatory against our country and our sister countries in southern Africa.”
Dozens of countries rushed on Friday to impose new restrictions, barring travelers from a number of African states from entering their borders, fearing a new variant could trigger more epidemics. The “variant of concern” as it has been named by the World Health Organization (WHO) is believed to be more transmissible and more dangerous than other strains.
“This latest round of travel bans amounts to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and its ability to detect new variants more quickly,” said a statement issued by the Department of International Relations. “Scientific excellence should be applauded and not punished. The global community needs collaboration and partnerships in managing the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said, noting that new variants have been identified in others. country unrelated to South Africa.
South African officials have started talks with countries that have adopted travel restrictions, hoping they will reconsider the decisions, the statement said. WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, also criticized the measures.
“With the omicron variant now detected in several parts of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” she said. A statement from his office argued that while travel restrictions may play a role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 slightly, they place a heavy burden on the targeted regions.
Botswana Minister of Health Edwin Dikoloti expressed concern that countries in southern Africa were “stigmatized”.
Since November 26, 19 cases of the new variant have been confirmed in Botswana, he said on Sunday. Most of the cases, however, had been “imported” from outside the country. Cases have also been confirmed in countries like Britain, Germany, Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel and Canada. Japan announced on Monday that it would suspend the entry of all foreign visitors from around the world.
“We are taking this step as an emergency precautionary measure to avoid the worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. He said the measure would go into effect on Tuesday.
The move means Japan will reinstate border controls it relaxed earlier this month for short-term business visitors, students and foreign workers. Kishida urged people to continue wearing masks and other basic anti-virus measures until more details on the new variant of omicron are known.
Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said on Sunday that 13 people who traveled from South Africa to the Netherlands wore the omicron variant. Switzerland also reported a suspected case in a traveler who returned from South Africa a week ago, SDA news agency reported.
Fears are growing that the new variant could reduce the effectiveness of existing vaccines, although much remains unclear.
The South African Medical Association said people known to have the omicron variant have not become seriously ill, although many are young and therefore less likely to suffer from serious illness.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday called for swift action on the omicron variant.
“We take this omicron variant very seriously and we know that we are now in a race against time,” von der Leyen said during a visit to Latvia, estimating that scientists and manufacturers would need two to three weeks to get a full picture of the strength of the variant.
“The general line is: hope for the best, prepare for the worst,” said von der Leyen.
The United States plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other countries in southern Africa from Monday. “This will give us a period of time to improve our preparedness,” America’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said of ABC’s “This Week” ban.
Fauci said it would take about two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to the Associated Press (AP).
The African Center for Infectious Diseases (Africa CDC) meanwhile said it opposed travel bans, which it said had not significantly improved the situation. And the WHO has called for restraint on travel restrictions.
Nonetheless, the United States, Canada, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and EU member states have all banned travel from southern Africa – and the list goes on.
Pakistan has banned travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia as well as Hong Kong, where two people are infected with the omicron strain.
Indonesia has barred entry to foreigners from 11 African countries – South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini, Malawi, Angola, Zambia and Nigeria – and Hong Kong. All international arrivals will also need to be quarantined for seven days, up from three.
Australia has imposed a similar entry ban on non-nationals from southern Africa. Health authorities also confirmed there on Sunday the presence of two cases of the omicron strain.
Israel, meanwhile, will ban all foreigners from entering the country from Sunday evening, after its cabinet decision on coronaviruses on Saturday evening, according to media. Morocco announced on Sunday that it would suspend all international flights to the country for two weeks due to the new variant.
In a bid to bring the epidemic in South Africa under control, Ramaphosa announced that the government would start consultations to make vaccination compulsory for certain activities and places.
“We call on all countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our sisterly countries in southern Africa to urgently reverse their decisions and lift the ban they imposed before any further damage occurs. be caused to our economies and the livelihoods of our people, “he said.
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