South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called the entire world Sunday to lift the unjustifiable travel bans imposed on his country after the detection of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus because those restrictions will do more harm than good.
Ramaphosa also pointed out certain travel restrictions were scientifically unjustified, while he admitted his government was considering making vaccines mandatory for certain activities and locations in a bid to increase uptake.
The South African leader asked for the restrictions to be reversed at the earliest because they would do very little if anything in stopping the cases of Omicron which have already been detected around the world in places such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.
Several countries have blacklisted South Africa and its neighbours for travel after the World Health Organization (WHO) found Omicron was a “variant of concern, meaning it is potentially more contagious than others.
“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions,” Ramaphosa said in a nationwide message. He claimed such a decision was not substantiated by scientific grounds. “The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,” he added.
“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries,” he went on.
South Africa lost US $ 10bn in 2020 because of a drop in foreign visitors and is estimated to lose about US $ 10m every week flights are suspended from key overseas tourist markets, according to press reports.
After praising South Africa for informing the WHO as soon as the Omicron variant was detected, WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, also criticized travel restrictions, which may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”
“If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations,” he further explained.
According to the WHO, it is not ”yet clear” whether the Omicron spreads more easily from person to person, or whether if it causes a more severe disease compared with other strains. “There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants,” the agency said.
Just about 35 per cent of adults in South Africa have been fully vaccinated due to a slow start and widespread hesitancy. There have been some 2.9 million infections reported and and 89,797 deaths. Omicron in South Africa is believed to be fuelling a rise in infections, with 1,600 new cases recorded on average in the past seven days compared with 500 the previous week.