South Africa Denounces Travel Bans As Unfair Consequence Of Alerting World To New COVID-19 Variant

South Africa says it’s paying a price for being the first country to identify the omicron variant.

Japan on Monday (Nov. 29) became one of the latest countries to close its borders in the wake of scientists in South Africa identifying the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, The Washington Post reported. But South African officials are blasting the border closures to travelers from their country.

Unlike other countries, Japan’s border closure applies to all non-resident foreigners.

Although there’s little information about omicron, several other countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, European Union nations and some African countries like Rwanda and Angola, announced almost immediate travel bans from South Africa and other southern African nations.

It sparked criticism from South African officials and some global health experts who said the travel bans unfairly punishes South Africa and could result in countries deciding not to warn the world when they discover new variants of the deadly virus.

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“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,” South Africa’s Ministry of International Relations said in a statement.

On Sunday (Nov. 28), South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa said no scientific evidence justifies the travel bans, adding that his country is a victim of unfair discrimination, according to the BBC.

"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,” Ramaphosa stated, calling on countries with bans to “urgently reverse their decisions... before any further damage is done to our economies."

Several countries in Europe, Asia and North America have also reported cases of the omicron variant, yet the travel bans fall on southern African countries, NPR reported.

Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute of Global Health, told NPR that travel bans that target specific countries during a pandemic can decrease scientific transparency by punishing proactive countries.

"If the question is to prevent the variant from coming in, it really doesn't make sense to exempt countries where it has been identified and that has even more direct flights than southern Africa," Omer said.

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