South African President calls for lifting of travel ban on Omicron | News
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on countries to “urgently” cancel “scientifically unjustified” travel restrictions linked to the discovery of a new type of coronavirus.
His comments on Sunday came as the highly mutated variant – called Omicron – continued to spread around the world, with new cases identified in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.
Dozens of countries have blacklisted South Africa and its neighbors since South African scientists this week flagged a new alternative. The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Omicron as a “variable of concern” potentially more contagious than previous variants.
In his first address to the nation since the discovery of Omicron, Ramaphosa said: “We call on all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our sister countries in Southern Africa to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions.”
He added that “the prohibition of travel is not informed by science.”
“The only thing a travel ban will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to and recover from the pandemic,” he added.
“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our sister countries in southern Africa.”
The sudden stop of flights has sparked panic in South Africa’s vibrant tourism industry, with cancellations of reservations increasing right after the announcement. The country’s tourism sector lost $10 billion in bookings in 2020 due to a drop in foreign visitors, and is estimated to lose about $10 million each week as trips from major overseas tourism markets are suspended.
In a report from Johannesburg, Al Jazeera’s Fahmeda Miller said there had been “a great deal of frustration” among government officials and members of the scientific community about the travel restrictions.
“There is a lot of concern about what these travel restrictions will mean [economically] For South Africa as a region, especially before the holiday period, thousands of visitors are expected from Europe.” They say a lot of anger from the president and the government about the good work, scientists have been doing about genome sequencing and also tracking COVID-19 changes, but instead, they are Punishment of South Africa.
Machidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, praised South Africa for reporting the UN health agency once its national laboratory identified the omicron variable, and also criticized travel restrictions and called on countries to follow international scientific and health regulations in order to avoid it. Such measures.
“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19, but they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Moeti said in a statement. “If the restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, in accordance with the International Health Regulations, a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by more than 190 countries.”
Shabeer Madi, a South African vaccinologist, told Al Jazeera that it was “naive” for countries to believe they could stop the spread of this species by imposing a blanket ban on countries in South Africa.
“The virus has already found its way into these communities from individuals who have not traveled or had contact with anyone from South Africa,” he said. “In South Africa, we have one of the best COVID sequencing capabilities in the world based on our experience treating HIV and TB. We have been ahead of the game for a while now, thus we are the victim of our success.”
While scientists are still assessing the virulence of Omicron, the World Health Organization said Sunday that it was “not yet clear” whether the variant spreads more easily from person to person, or whether infection with this type causes more serious disease compared to other strains.
“There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those of other species,” the agency said.
While preliminary evidence suggests that there may be an increased risk that people who have previously had COVID-19 will develop Omicron, information is currently limited.
PCR tests continue to detect omicron infection, the World Health Organization said, adding that it is working to understand the variant’s potential effects on current countermeasures, including vaccines.
In his speech, Ramaphosa said the “most powerful tool” to reduce transmission is the vaccine and urged South Africans to prick.
He said the government is considering making vaccines mandatory for some activities and sites in a bid to increase uptake.
Only about 35 percent of adults in South Africa have been fully vaccinated due to the slow start of the vaccine campaign and widespread hesitation.
The country most affected by the virus is in Africa, with around 2.9 million cases and 89,797 deaths reported so far.
Omicron is believed to have caused the surge in infections, with an average of 1,600 new cases recorded in the past seven days compared to 500 in the previous week.