South Africa’s president calls for lifting of Omicron travel bans
South Africa’s president has condemned travel bans enacted against his country and its neighbours over the new coronavirus variant Omicron.
Cyril Ramaphosa said he was “deeply disappointed” by the action, which he described as unjustified, and called for the bans to be urgently lifted.
The United Kingdom, European Union and United States are among those who have imposed travel bans.
Omicron has been classed as a “variant of concern”. Early evidence suggests it has a higher re-infection risk.
The heavily mutated variant was detected in South Africa earlier this month and then reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) last Wednesday.
The variant is responsible for most of the infections found in South Africa’s most populated province, Gauteng, over the last two weeks, and the number of cases of “appears to be increasing in almost all provinces” in the country, according to the WHO.
South Africa reported 2 800 new infections on Sunday, a rise from the daily average of 500 in the previous week.
Government adviser and epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim said he expected the number of cases to reach more than 10 000 a day by the end of the week, and for hospitals to come under pressure in the next two to three weeks.
But Health Minister Joe Phaahla said there was “absolutely no need to panic”.
“We have been here before,” he added, referring to the Beta variant identified in South Africa last December.
On Monday, Japan became the latest country to reinstate tough border restrictions, banning all foreigners from entering the country from November 30.
The WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel curbs, saying they should look to a “risk-based and scientific approach”.
WHO’s Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said on Sunday: “With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity.”
However, numerous bans have been introduced in recent days, with Rwanda and Angola being among the African states to restrict flights to and from South Africa.
Foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela described their decision as “quite regrettable, very unfortunate, and I will even say sad”. (BBC)