Omicron variant: International community punishing South Africa

South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said in a statement that the country is being “punished” for identifying the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

Scientists in South Africa on Thursday announced the new variant, after it was traced during genome sequencing.

DIRCO  said rather than being shut out by the international community, South Africa should be applauded for identifying the new variant.

This is coming after several countries including the United Kingdom, the United States and airlines imposed travel restrictions and cancelled flights following the announcement of the new Omicron variant.

DIRCO said, “New variants have been detected in other countries. Each of those cases have had no recent links with southern Africa. It’s worth noting that the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in southern Africa.”

“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 statement further said the government was aligning itself with a call by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to international leaders, imploring them not to “engage in knee-jerk reactions” and impose travel restrictions.

While commenting on the new Omicron variant, WHO Head of Emergencies Michael Ryan emphasized the importance of waiting for more data on the new variant.

“We’ve seen in the past, the minute there’s any kind of mention of any kind of variation and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel. It’s really important that we remain open, and stay focused,” Ryan said.

Dirco said South Africa’s capacity to test and its ramped-up vaccination programme, backed up by a world class scientific community, should give its global partners comfort that the government was managing the pandemic.

Naledi Pandor, DIRCO Minister, said: “Whilst we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and sharing of expertise. Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries, and business.”