The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) has faulted travel restrictions imposed on African countries, mostly from southern Africa, following the detection of a new Covid-19 variant, saying the decision is based more on “Afrophobia” than science.
Reacting to the restrictions through acting presidential press secretary Anthony Kasunda yesterday, President Lazarus Chakwera, speaking in his capacity as Sadc chairperson, condemned the restrictions imposed following the detection of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) in Botswana and South Africa.
He said: “The unilateral travel bans now imposed on Sadc countries by the UK [United Kingdom], EU [European Union], US [United States] and Australia are uncalled for. Covid-19 measures must be based on science and not Afrophobia.”
The President, who hailed South African scientists for identifying the new variant, said it is unfortunate that African countries are being treated in such a way when in some of the countries on the ‘red list’ there are no reported cases of the Omicron variant.
Chakwera has since appealed to the countries that have imposed the travel restrictions on the African countries to reconsider their position on the matter.
Chakwera’s position follows a similar statement the South African government issued on Saturday describing the travel restrictions as a punishment to South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.
The statement signed by South Africa’s head of public diplomacy Clayson Monyela said the South African government has since engaged countries that have imposed the travel restrictions in a bid to persuade them reconsider their decision. (Read full story on Page 12 of this edition).
Besides South Africa and Botswana, other countries affected by the travel restrictions include Malawi, e-Swatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Zambia.
Being on the red list means people resident in the affected countries cannot travel to the UK, EU, US and Australia.
Countries which have reported cases of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) include South Africa, Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong, the UK, Germany, Italy and Czech Republic.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says early evidence suggests that the Omicron variant could pose an increased risk of reinfection.
In a statement issued on Friday, WHO technical lead for Covid-19 Maria Van Kerhove said the variant has been classified as a variant of concern (VOC).
She stressed that there is need for more research to determine whether the variant is more contagious, causes more severe disease and whether it evades vaccines.
“Right now there are many studies that are underway. So far, there is little information but those studies are underway so we need researchers to have the time to carry those out and WHO will inform the public and our partners and our member States as soon as we have more information,” reads the WHO statement in part.
Multiple international media outlets reported that the Omicron variant has about 50 mutations and that more than 30 of the mutations were found in the spike protein, a structure the virus uses to get into the cells they attack.
Scientists say the Omicron variant could render existing Covid-19 vaccines incapable of protecting people from infection and that it could drive further waves of the pandemic by allowing the virus to evade the body’s defences.