South Africa says it’s being ‘punished’ for detecting Omicron

Washington: South Africa said it was being punished for its advanced ability to detect new Covid-19 variants early, like travel bans and restrictions imposed because the new Omicron variant threatens to harm tourism and other sectors of the economy.

South Africa’s epidemiologists and scientists have managed to detect emerging coronavirus variants and their mutations early on in their life cycle. The Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel, and Hong Kong.

“This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,” the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said.

“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said in a statement.

Many nations rushed last week to announce travel curbs to South Africa and other countries in the region.

The foreign ministry noted that while the new variant was also detected in other countries, the global reaction to those countries has been “starkly different” to cases in southern Africa.

The new variant was first announced on November 24 by a team of scientists in South Africa who said they had detected a variant that could possibly evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.

“Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and business,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in the statement.

The government was engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider, it added.

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Blanket travel bans will not prevent Omicron spread: WHO

Geneva: The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, even as dozens of countries have already introduced such restrictions.

Although Omicron has been labeled a “variant of concern” by the WHO, it said that blanket travel bans will only place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods, while also “disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.”

Dozens of countries have already tightened travel measures, and even suspended flights, Xinhua news agency reported.

He called the “blunt, blanket measures” introduced by some member states “not evidence-based or effective on their own.” He urged countries to take “rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the international health regulations.”

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