The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) says South Africa is being punished rather than lauded for detecting the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron.
This week, the Health Department announced that through advanced genomic sequencing, the country’s leading scientific minds were able to detect this new variant of concern, which is largely prevalent in Gauteng.
Since the announcement, countries including the UK, US, Canada, Brazil and Saudi Arabia have imposed travel bans on South Africa and other African countries.
EU countries ban travellers for certain African countries:
Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela says they will engage all the nations which have imposed a travel ban on South Africa in an effort to persuade them to reconsider their decision.
“Whilst South Africa respects the right of every country to take precautionary measures, we think this travel ban being instituted against South Africa and other Southern African countries are haste, it’s rushed because so little is known about this new variant. Why would countries want to punish, instead of applauding South Africans scientists world advanced, better than most countries, in terms of detecting new variants? They should be working with us, in terms of managing this new variant as opposed to the route that they have taken.”
Variant has a number of concerning mutations
Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19 says, the variant has a number of concerning mutations, however, scientists in South Africa and across the globe are working swiftly to understand the characteristics of the Omicron, in order to contain its spread.
“Based on the information that we have particularly from South Africa. They have advised WHO that we classify this variant as a variant of concern. We are announcing B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern, named Omicron. Omicron is a variant of concern because it has concerning properties.”
Van Kerkhove adds: “This variant has a large number of mutations and some of these mutations have worrying characteristics. Right now, there are many studies that are underway, there is a lot of work being done in SA and other countries to better characterise the variant itself, in terms of transmissibility, severity. Once a variant is classified as a variant of concern, it’s really important that we have good SARS C0V-2 surveillance around the world.”
Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla says there’s no evidence that vaccines are ineffective against the new COVID-19 variant.
Phaahla was speaking during a virtual briefing in response to the discovery of the Omicron variant.
He says the decision by some countries to impose a travel ban on travellers from South Africa is unfair: