Southern African leaders demand immediate lifting of travel bans

Ramaphosa said it was of great concern that the global community had not sustained the principles of solidarity and cooperation in securing equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines. Picture: Edgar Su, Reuters.

SOUTH African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on Western countries to urgently reverse unjustified travel bans linked to the discovery of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron.

Addressing the nation on Sunday evening, South African President Ramaphosa said he was deeply disappointed by the action, which he described as unjustified while also calling on the travel bans which have affected the SADC region to be urgently lifted.

The United Kingdom, European Union and US are among those who have imposed the travel bans.

“We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of Southern African countries including our own, following the identification of the Omicron variant. This is a clear and completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting G20 countries in Rome last month,” said President Ramaphosa.

SADC Chairperson and the President of Malawi Dr Lazarus Chakwera accused Western countries of “Afrophobia” for shutting their borders while Botswana’s Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti says the shutting of borders against southern African countries goes against the position taken by the World Health Organisation.

“We are concerned that, there seems to have been attempted to stigmatise the variant in the country where it was detected. Detection in this case, was treated as origination. The issue should be the presence of the disease which should then call for all to do whatever is possible to avoid its transmission. Labelling disease variants with the names of countries is also contrary to the position taken by the World Health Organization; to give variants a neutral name that does not stigmatise a country or its people,” said Edwin Dikoloti, Botswana Health Minister.

Dozens of countries have blacklisted several Southern African countries after scientists flagged Omicron in South Africa last week.

Although the World Health Organisation has defined Omicron as a variant of concern, scientists are still assessing its severity.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has put in place measures in border lying areas to contain the spread of the variant which has not been detected in the country.

Omicron is believed to be fueling a rise in infections, particularly in South Africa, with 1,600 new cases recorded in the past seven days compared to 500 the previous week.