African Nations Push Back Against Omicron Travel Bans

Chimdi Chukwukere
Staff Writer

Several African nations are pushing back against what they call a discriminatory imposition of travel bans on countries in Southern Africa following the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. The protests come amidst the fact that despite cases of the new variant being discovered in several countries, including Israel, Hong Kong, The United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and The Czech Republic, travel bans have only been placed against countries in Africa, reports CNN.

On Sunday, November 28, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa released a statement condemning the flurry of travel bans that have been placed on South Africa and that were triggered by the fact that scientists first detected the Omicron variant in South Africa. He called on countries that have placed these bans to “urgently reverse their decisions,” according to reports from Al Jazeera.

“The prohibition of travel is not informed by science,” said the South African President in his first broadcast since the variant was reported. “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, further noting that “these restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries.”

Ramaphosa is not the only African leader who has pushed back on the bans. Speaking through a Facebook post on Sunday, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera called for anti-COVID measures to be based on science, “not Afrophobia.”

“We are all concerned about the new Covid variant and owe South Africa’s scientists our thanks for identifying it before anyone else did,” Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera said in a Facebook post on Sunday. “But the unilateral travel bans now imposed on [Southern African Development Community] countries by the UK, EU, U.S., Australia, and others are uncalled for. Covid measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia.”

The UK was the first country to place travel bans on South Africa following the discovery of the Omicron variant. Since then, several other countries across the world have followed suit with bans on travel from other African countries. The Nigerian paper, Business Day, reported that the West African country is the latest to be added to UK’s red list.

On November 30, Canada ramped up its travel bans on additional African countries, adding Nigeria, Malawi, and Egypt to its list after having already imposed travel bans on seven Southern African countries. The countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Eswatini, reports Canadian news agency, Toronto Star.

U.S. President Joe Biden described the news of the Omicron variant as a big concern. Acting on what he calls the need for the United States to be more “cautious,” President Biden placed travel restrictions on South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi, CNN reports.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 77 million Africans have been fully vaccinated in a continent with a population exceeding one billion. Critics of the travel bans have blamed wealthier nations for hoarding massive amounts of vaccines that could have been provided to African nations to help prevent the new variant. Speaking to CNN, Dr. Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Union Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, noted that with many significant regions of the world still unvaccinated, it was only a matter of time before new variants emerged.

According to Reuters, EU spokesman Eric Mamer announced that European Union states have also agreed to introduce temporary restrictions on all travel into the EU from southern Africa, specifically from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Japan, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, Turkey, Egypt, Rwanda, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, and Angola are also among those imposing restrictions on flights and travelers from southern African nations in light of the new variant.

The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) hit back at South Africa’s Department of Health for what it calls a “hurried” announcement of the discovery of the variant that threatens to hurt the country’s tourism industry at a time when the industry was in the process of recovering, reports South African local news agency, IOL. “We are feeling the ripple effects thereof on the ground as ordinary South Africans who have already had to endure unacceptable hardships,” said TBSCSA CEO Tshifhiwa Tshivhengwa in a statement. “The tourism and hospitality sector continue to bear the brunt of the country’s reputational damage with each variant discovery and inevitable lockdowns stemming the spread of Covid-19.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus registered his displeasure over the travel bans, noting that countries should not be punished for reporting updates and that travel bans make it difficult for the organization to keep up with new developments. Speaking during his briefing on Wednesday per CNN, he stated, “It’s deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing. We call on all countries to take rational, proportional risk reduction measures in keeping with international health regulations.”

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