Johannesburg, Nov 27: South Africa on Saturday said it was being “punished” for its advanced ability to detect new COVID-19 variants early, as several countries imposed travel ban on it due to the new potentially highly-transmissible Omicron variant, first detected here. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) in a statement urged world leaders not to implement knee-jerk policy decisions in response to the detection of the Omicron variant.
The latest round of travel bans is “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker. Excellent science should be applauded and not punished, it said. DIRCO pointed out that new variants had been detected in other countries as well and “each of those cases had no recent links with Southern Africa”.
However, “the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in Southern Africa,” it said. DIRCO said its officials are in discussion with the countries that have banned travel to and from South Africa to dissuade them from continuing the restrictions.
Foreign minister Naledi Pandor also slammed the UK and other countries for their move to impose travel ban on South Africa. Whilst we respect the right of all countries to take necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and sharing of expertise, she said.
Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and businesses, Pandor added. Along with South Africa, its neighbouring states — Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia and Angola — have also been slapped with travel bans, crippling their economies which are largely reliant on tourism.
Earlier, Health Minister Joe Phaahla has termed the travel bans on South Africa as draconian and misdirected. The new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, first detected in South Africa this week, was on Friday designated as a Variant of Concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which named it Omicron.
A variant of concern is the WHO’s top category of worrying COVID-19 variants. Countries around the world are currently racing to introduce travel bans and restrictions on southern African countries in an effort to contain Omicron’s spread.
European countries along with the UK have banned travel to and from South Africa and neighbouring countries of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, as well as Lesotho and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), both of which are landlocked within South Africa. Other countries include Mauritius, Israel, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the US, Canada and the Netherlands.
Many other countries followed suit, most of them indicating that only their own citizens would be allowed back, subject to a quarantine period. In New Delhi, the Indian government asked all states and union territories to conduct rigorous screening and testing of all international travellers coming from or transiting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana, where the new variant has been detected.
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