South Africa says travel bans on new variant unjustified


  • South Africa detects new variant of COVID-19
  • Scientists worried about its many mutations
  • Great Britain, others ban flights from certain African countries
  • WHO labels variant ‘of concern’, attributes letter Omicron

JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 26 (Reuters) – South Africa said on Friday that imposing restrictions on travelers from the country due to a new variant of COVID-19 was unwarranted, after a UK ban on flights from southern African countries that others have followed.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a press conference that South Africa was acting transparently and that travel bans were against the norms and standards of the World Health Organization (WHO), who held an emergency meeting on the variant named omicron.

Scientists have so far detected the variant in relatively small numbers, mainly in South Africa but also in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel. But they are concerned about its high number of mutations that have raised fears that it is no longer resistant to vaccines and transmissible. Read more

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WHO has designated omicron as “of concern”, its most serious level, following a meeting of its technical advisory group. Read more

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke on Friday afternoon and discussed ways to reopen international travel, a Downing Street spokesperson said. Read more

“Our immediate concern is the damage this decision will cause to both tourism industries and businesses in both countries,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.

Ramaphosa will convene an advisory council on Sunday to review the evidence for the variant.

The rand fell 2% against the dollar and South African hospitality stocks slumped as investors flustered. Read more

Passengers line up to take a PCR test for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) before traveling on international flights, at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 26, 2021. REUTERS / Sumaya Hisham

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Britain has said the variant is the largest ever found and has banned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia. European Union states have also agreed to suspend travel to southern Africa, the EU presidency has said. Read more

However, Salim Abdool Karim, one of South Africa’s top epidemiologists, said a global response was important, noting that the delta variant had spread to 53 countries within three weeks of being identified.

“So that doesn’t really help to close the borders… We have to find solutions to this variant together. And part of that is not to overreact,” he told Reuters in an interview. , calling the UK travel ban a “panic reaction” which was understandable.


Scientists have expressed frustration at the travel bans, saying the focus should be on vaccinating more people in places that have struggled to access sufficient vaccines. It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand the impact of the variant’s mutations.

“This virus can evolve in the absence of adequate levels of immunization. It is shattering that this has to happen to get the message across,” Richard Lessells, an infectious disease expert based in South Africa, told Reuters. South.

In South Africa, around 35% of adults are fully immunized, a figure higher than in most other African countries, but half of the government’s year-end target. While the continent initially struggled to get sufficient doses, some countries, including South Africa, now have too much stock, with reluctance and apathy over vaccines slowing the vaccination campaign.

South Africa has been the worst-affected country in Africa in terms of the total number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths, with nearly 3 million infections and more than 89,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. He had known a lull after a third wave of severe infections, until last week, when new infections started to multiply.

On Thursday, it reported 2,465 new cases, nearly double the number the day before. On Friday, there was a more modest increase in daily infections to 2,828 new cases.

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Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town, Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Emma Rumney in Johannesburg and Alistair Smout in London Editing by John Stonestreet, Frances Kerry, Toby Chopra and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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