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SA travel ban due to discovery of new Omicron variant is discrimination, say experts

Travellers walk through Cape Town International Airport. File Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA

Travellers walk through Cape Town International Airport. File Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency/ANA

Published Nov 29, 2021

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DURBAN - HEALTH experts believe the countries that have issued travel bans against South Africa after South African scientists discovered the new Covid-19 Omicron variant last week are practising discrimination.

According to Reuters, the Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

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The Mercury’s sister publication, Sunday Tribune reported yesterday that the list of countries that have banned South African travel includes the US, Canada, Australia, Philippines, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Israel, Japan and Malaysia.

The ban was also extended to neighbouring countries Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini and the Seychelles.

Public health specialist Dr Atiya Mosam said the travel ban against South Africa and neighbouring countries was unwarranted and discriminatory. “If anything, our transparency and advanced scientific knowledge and proactive approach should be lauded. Instead of discrimination, there should be active co-operation between countries to stem the tide and ensure that new discoveries are reported in a fair and balanced manner,” said Mosam.

Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, deputy director of the African Health Research Institute, agreed that the “outrageous” ban was a case of discrimination.

Ndung’u questioned why Israel and Belgium hadn’t been slapped with a travel ban when the new variant had also been identified there.

“One gets the sense that science is being mixed up with xenophobic politics to come with policies that don’t make sense,” he said.

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“We now know, if we hadn’t realised it before, that Africa is on its own. The sooner we come up with our solutions without expecting intervention from outside, the better,” said Ndung’u.

Professor Mosa Moshabela, deputy vice-chancellor of Research and Innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said looking at the matter from the perspective of the countries which issued the travel ban, he believed their actions were in the best interest of their countries.

However, he said the decision was based on nationalism values, and in conflict with global solidarity values.

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“I am pretty sure some of their citizens are happy with the decision. At some point, South Africans wanted us to ban flights from India in fear of Delta. Unfortunately, this is not how public health works. The point is not to single out countries in distress, but to support them, and co-ordinate better with them in terms of surveillance. A country can close borders from other countries if containment is necessary, but not single out vulnerable countries,” said Moshabela.

He said it was not up for debate whether scientists or the government should withhold findings of global importance in a pandemic.

“Delays in reporting would compromise our ability to respond early with intensified interventions.”

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In a statement on Saturday, International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor, said while South Africa respected the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, it should be remembered that the pandemic required collaboration and sharing of expertise.

“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.

“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished. The global community needs collaboration and partnerships in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

THE MERCURY

Related Topics:

Covid-19Lockdown

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