South African president requires lifting of Omicron travel bans

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has referred to as on international locations to “urgently” reverse “scientifically unjustified” travel restrictions linked to the invention of a brand new variant of the coronavirus.

His feedback on Sunday got here because the extremely mutated variant – dubbed Omicron – continued spreading all over the world, with new instances recognized within the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.

Dozens of nations have blacklisted South Africa and its neighbours since South African scientists this week flagged the brand new variant. The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron a “variant of concern” that’s probably extra contagious than earlier variants.

“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,” Ramaphosa stated, in his first tackle to the nation because the detection of Omicron.

“The prohibition of travel is not informed by science,” he added.

“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,” he added.

“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries.”

The abrupt grounding of flights has spooked South Africa’s very important tourism trade, with reserving cancellations growing immediately following the announcement. The nation’s tourism sector misplaced $10bn in bookings in 2020 due to a drop in overseas guests, and is estimated to lose about $10m each week flights are suspended from key abroad vacationer markets.

Reporting from Johannesburg, Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller stated there had been “a significant amount of frustration” amongst authorities officers and members of the scientific group over the travel curbs.

“There is a lot of concern around what these travel restrictions will mean [economically] for southern Africa as a region, especially ahead of the holiday period, when thousands of visitors from Europe are expected,” she stated. “A lot of anger from the president and the government around the good work, they say, scientists have been doing on genome sequencing and also tracing COVID-19 changes, but instead South Africa being punished.”

Praising South Africa for informing the United Nations’ well being company as quickly as its nationwide laboratory recognized the Omicron variant, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, additionally criticised travel curbs and referred to as on international locations to comply with science and worldwide well being laws so as to keep away from such measures.

“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Moeti stated in a press release. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognised by over 190 nations.”

Shabir Madhi, a South African vaccinologist, informed Al Jazeera it was “naive” for international locations “to believe they can stop the spread of this variant with a blanket ban on countries in southern Africa”.

“The virus has already found its way into these societies from individuals that haven’t even travelled to or come into contact with anyone from southern Africa,” he stated. “In South Africa, we have one of the globe’s best COVID sequencing capacities based on our experience with treating HIV and TB. We have been ahead of the game for a while now and we are thus a victim of our success.”

While scientists are nonetheless assessing Omicron’s virulence, the WHO stated on Sunday it was “not yet clear” whether or not the variant spreads extra simply from individual to individual, or whether or not an infection with the variant causes extra extreme illness in contrast with different strains.

“There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants,” the company stated.

While preliminary proof suggests there could also be an elevated danger of people that beforehand had COVID-19 being reinfected with Omicron, info is presently restricted.

The WHO stated PCR checks proceed to detect an infection with Omicron, including it was working to know the potential results of the variant on current countermeasures, together with vaccines.

In his tackle, Ramaphosa stated the “most powerful tool” to restrict its transmission was the vaccine and urged South Africans to get jabbed.

He stated the federal government was contemplating making vaccines obligatory for sure actions and places in a bid to extend uptake.

Just about 35 p.c of adults in South Africa have been totally inoculated because of a gradual begin to its vaccine marketing campaign and widespread hesitancy.

The nation is the worst virus-hit in Africa, with some 2.9 million instances and 89,797 deaths reported to this point.

Omicron is believed to be fuelling an increase in infections, with 1,600 new instances recorded on common prior to now seven days in contrast with 500 the earlier week.