United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he has spoken with his South Africa counterpart to express his country’s deep appreciation for the professionalism and transparency shown by both the South African government and its scientists in the shared fight against COVID-19.

Blinken spoke with Dr Naledi Pandor after his government joined others around the world in restricting travel from South Africa over the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant of concern.

In a readout of the call shared by the State Department, the two top diplomats are said to have emphasized the importance of continued partnership between the United States, the African Union, South Africa and other impacted nations in Africa to help vaccinate populations and combat impacts of COVID-19.

The Secretary of State expressed appreciation for the longstanding public health co-operation between the two countries while praising the quick response by South Africa for the quick identification and transparency regarding the Omicron variant.

The call comes in the context of new controversial travel restrictions, imposed by President Joe Biden on travellers from several southern African countries measures that will go into full effect on Monday despite protests from the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.

Meanwhile, the South African government moved up the meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council to Saturday – sparking rumours of an imminent hard lockdown. The meeting had originally been set down for Sunday.

The video below is on the NCCC moving up the meeting who sparked rumours of an imminent hard lockdown: