South African president calls for Omicron to lift travel ban

South African president calls for Omicron to lift travel ban

The South African president has condemned the travel ban imposed on his country and its neighbors due to the novel coronavirus variant, Omicron.

Cyril Ramaphosa said he was “deeply disappointed” by the measure, which he described as unjustified, and called for the ban to be lifted urgently.

The United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States are among those to enforce the travel ban.

Omicron has been rated as a ‘alternative of concern’. Early evidence suggests that it has a higher risk of re-infection.

The highly mutant type was discovered in South Africa earlier this month and then reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) last Wednesday.

The variant is responsible for most of the infections found in South Africa’s most populous province of Gauteng, over the past two weeks, and is now present in all other provinces in the country.

The World Health Organization has warned against countries imposing travel restrictions hastily, saying they should look to a “scientific, risk-based approach”. However, several bans have been imposed in recent days amid concerns about the alternative.

“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, travel bans targeting Africa are attacking global solidarity,” WHO Africa Director Matshidiso Moeti said on Sunday.

In his speech on Sunday, Mr Ramaphosa said there was no scientific basis for the travel ban and that South Africa had been the victim of unfair discrimination.

He also argued that bans would not be effective in preventing the spread of the variant.

“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 said.

He called on countries with embargoes to “urgently reverse their decisions … before any harm is done to our economies.”

Mr Ramaphosa has described the emergence of the Omicron variant as a wake-up call to the world regarding inequality in vaccines – warning that until everyone is vaccinated, more variants are inevitable.

There is no shortage of vaccines in South Africa itself, and Ramaphosa urged more people to get vaccinated, saying this remains the best way to combat the virus.

An earlier statement by South Africa’s foreign ministry on Saturday also strongly criticized the travel ban, saying the country was being punished – rather than praised – for discovering Omicron.

Omicron has now been discovered in a number of countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Israel.

In other developments on Sunday:

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