South Africa said on Saturday that it is being “punished” for its advanced ability to detect new COVID-19 variants early. Some countries had imposed travel bans due to the new potentially highly portable Omicron variant, first noted here.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) has in a statement urged world leaders not to “knee-jerk” policy decisions in response to the detection of the Omicron variant.
The latest round of travel bans is “similar to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new varieties more quickly. Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said.
DIRCO pointed out that new variants had also been detected in other countries and “all of these cases had no recent links with South Africa”. However, “the response to these countries is very different from cases in South Africa,” it said.
DIRCO said its officials are in talks with countries that have banned travel to and from South Africa to stop them from continuing restrictions. Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor also slammed Britain and other countries for setting up their movement to ban travel to South Africa.
“While we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautions to protect their citizens, we must remember that this pandemic requires cooperation and sharing of expertise,” she said.
“Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industry and businesses,” Pandor added.
Along with South Africa, its neighboring states – Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia and Angola – have also been hit by travel bans, which hides their economies, which are largely dependent on tourism.
Earlier, Health Minister Joe Phaahla described the travel bans in South Africa as “draconian” and “wrongful”.
The new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, first introduced in South Africa this week, was named a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday, calling it “Omicron”.
A “variant of concern” is the WHO top category of concerns COVID-19 variants.
Countries around the world are currently fighting to impose travel bans and restrictions on South African countries in an effort to contain the spread of Omicron.
European countries along with the United Kingdom have banned travel to and from South Africa and neighboring Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, as well as Lesotho and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), both of which are closed in South Africa.
Other countries include Mauritius, Israel, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, USA, Canada and the Netherlands.
Many other countries followed suit, most of them stating that only their own citizens returning were subject to a quarantine period.
In New Delhi, the Indian government has asked all states and union areas to conduct a rigorous screening and testing of all international travelers coming from South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana or coming through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana where the new variant was discovered.