SA wants countries to reconsider travel bans over Omicron variant

2021-11-27 07:12:00 PM

The department of international relations said the travel restrictions were “akin to punishing South Africa”

Pieter van der MerweDigital display boards show cancelled flights to London's Heathrow airport at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 26 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ SUMAYA HISHAMThe government is trying to persuade countries that have  implemented travel bans from Southern Africa over the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant to reconsider their actions.

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The latest restrictions, some implemented less than a day after local authorities confirmed the new variant, were “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker”, the department of international relations & co-operation said in a statement on Saturday.

The World Health Organization (WHO)has classified Omicron, initially known as B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern as it might be more transmissible, more severe, or decrease the effectiveness of built-up immunity or vaccines. “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said in a statement. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant …”

Due to the limited data available at this stage, the WHO called on countries to conduct further tests to determine Omicron’s “severity, effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralisation”, among others.

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But during a briefing on Friday night, local health officials said there were indications that vaccines were effective against Omicron.“We have additional people hospitalised, but the overall impression is that the ratio of vaccinated to unvaccinated is 4:1 at this time,” member of the ministerial advisory committee Prof Ian Sanne told the briefing. “People should still go out and get vaccinated.”

Health minister Joe Phaahla, who referred to the restrictions as “draconian” during Friday’s briefing, questioned the sense of the responses, especially by countries with daily rates significantly higher than SA’s. He suggested SA was being “punished” for its transparency, and said countries should instead co-operate as recommended by the WHO.

The department of international relations also said Omicron had been detected in other countries with no links to Southern Africa, while no bans were implemented.Minister of international relations Naledi Pandor said government’s “immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and business”.

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A number of local tourism bodies condemned the bans.The Southern Africa Tourism Services Association(Satsa), representing over 1,300 businesses, described the UK’s ban as “devastating for the tourism industry” as travellers were forced to cancel their trips. 

Meanwhile, the JSE fell the most it has since October 2020 amid global sell-offs, Business Day reported on Friday. Travel and leisure stocks were down 9.1% while the rand dropped to R16.36/$ 

Read more: Business Day »

COVID-19 in SA | No Omicron cases yet in Western CapeWestern Cape health authorities believe the new variant could be responsible for the slight rise in cases witnessed over the past week. Joburg people will change that.

SA 'punished' for detecting Omicron COVID variant: DircoThe decision by a number of countries to ban flights from southern Africa following the discovery of the variant 'is akin to punishing South Africa,' the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement. You think you are special that's the problem, what great science that SA has are they talking about, because SA is in the bottom half Worldwide I'm sure in Scientific studies, Western and even most Eastern countries have far better scientists than us. Serves them right This going to get ugly. Unemployment is already sky-high in this country, now the hospitality industry is going to lose another high season. It is one of the biggest employers in SA. We could be looking at civil unrest. Hopefully, they target Luthuli House This is BS!! China must start paying for the damage they caused to our economy!! COVID19 SouthAfrica

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