South Africa says it has been 'punished' rather than 'applauded' for detecting the new Omicron variant

·3 min read
A passenger looks at an electronic flight notice board displaying cancelled flights at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021, after several countries banned flights from South Africa following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant Omicron.
A passenger looks at an electronic flight notice board displaying cancelled flights at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021, after several countries banned flights from South Africa following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant Omicron.Phill Magakoe/Getty Images
  • South Africa said it is being punished for detecting the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

  • The US, UK, and Europe have introduced travel restrictions on southern African countries.

  • "Excellent science should be applauded and not punished," the South African foreign ministry said.

South Africa complained that it was being punished for detecting the new coronavirus strain Omicron after worldwide travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa were hurriedly introduced.

"Excellent science should be applauded and not punished," the South African foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday, reported the BBC.

"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, it said.

The World Health Organization labeled Omicron a coronavirus "variant of concern" on Friday.

Researchers in South Africa detected the first known case on November 9 and reported the variant to the WHO on November 24.

South Africa has some of the world's top epidemiologists and scientists, who have detected emerging coronavirus variants early in their life cycle, Reuters said.

Over the weekend, several countries announced travel restrictions for travelers coming from southern African countries, including South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, the Seychelles, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.

The US said it would restrict travel from the region, and European Union member states have also planned to ban flights from southern African countries.

The UK, Canada, and Australia have also introduced restrictions.

South African officials claimed that the country was facing unfair discrimination.

"The world should provide support to South Africa and Africa and not discriminate or isolate it," Professor Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said in a series of tweets.

"We have been very transparent with scientific information. We identified, made data public, and raised the alarm as the infections are just increasing. We did this to protect our country and the world in spite potentially suffering massive discrimination," said Prof. de Oliveira.

The government also questioned the travel bans, as the Omicron variant has already been detected in Europe and Asia.

In a press conference on Friday, health minister Joe Phaahla said: "The same countries that are enacting this kind of knee-jerk, draconian reaction are battling their own waves."

On Friday, the WHO cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the variant, saying they should take a "risk-based and scientific approach."

The new travel bans came when South Africa hoped to revitalize its tourism industry after a pandemic slump.

"Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and business," South African minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.

The country said it had already started engaging countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider.

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