South Africa’s President Calls For Lifting Of Travel Bans Over Deadly Omicron COVID-19 Variant
Cyril Ramaphosa said he was “deeply disappointed” by the action, which he described as unjustified, and called for the bans to be urgently lifted.
His comments on Sunday came as the highly mutated variant – dubbed Omicron – continued spreading around the world, with new cases identified in the Netherlands, UK, EU, US, Israel, Japan, Denmark and Australia.
Dozens of countries have blacklisted South Africa and its neighbours since South African scientists this week flagged the new variant.
World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron a “variant of concern” that is potentially more contagious than previous variants.
The heavily mutated variant was detected in South Africa earlier this month and then reported to World Health Organization last Wednesday.
The variant is responsible for most of the infections found in South Africa’s most populated province, Gauteng, over the last two weeks, and is now present in all other provinces in the country.
WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel curbs, saying they should look to a “risk-based and scientific approach”. However, numerous bans have been introduced in recent days amid concerns over the variant.
The agency’s Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said on Sunday: “With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity.”
Reacting to the bans in his first address to the nation since the detection of Omicron, Ramaphosa stated;
We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions.
The prohibition of travel is not informed by science. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic.
These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries.
In his speech on Sunday, Ramaphosa said there was no scientific basis for the travel bans and that southern Africa was the victim of unfair discrimination.
He also argued that the bans would not be effective in preventing the spread of the variant, stressed;
The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic.
Ramaphosa called on countries with bans in place to “urgently reverse their decisions… before any further damage is done to our economies“.
He described the emergence of the Omicron variant as a wake-up call for the world regarding vaccine inequality – warning that until everyone was vaccinated, more variants were inevitable.
There are no vaccine shortages in South Africa itself, and Ramaphosa urged more people to get jabbed, saying that remained the best way to fight the virus.
A previous statement by the South African foreign ministry on Saturday also strongly criticised the travel bans, saying the country was being punished – instead of applauded – for discovering Omicron.
The abrupt grounding of flights has spooked South Africa’s vital tourism industry, with booking cancellations increasing directly following the announcement.
Just about 35 percent of adults in South Africa have been fully inoculated due to a slow start to its vaccine campaign and widespread hesitancy.
The country is the worst virus-hit in Africa, with some 2.9 million cases and 89,797 deaths reported to date.
Omicron is believed to be fuelling a rise in infections, with 1,600 new cases recorded on average in the past seven days compared with 500 the previous week.