COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID digest: South Africa decries travel bans

Published : November 27, 2021 16:23 IST

Travelers have been scrambling to get onto flights since countries began instituting travel bans on South Africa and neighboring states. Photo: Jerome Delay/AP/picture alliance

South African officials said their country has been treated unfairly over the new COVID variant.

Countries around the world have begun imposing travel bans on South Africa, along with several other neighboring countries, following the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant called omicron in southern Africa. South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a news conference: "We believe that some of the reactions have been unjustified." Phaahla said that for some countries the decision was about "finding scapegoats to deal with what is a worldwide problem."

Britain was the first to take action, and instituted a flight ban from countries in southern Africa, just hours after South African health authorities had given their briefing on the variant's discovery. The World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned against introducing travel curbs at this point, saying that it could still take a number of weeks to determine the nature of the new variant.

Phaahla said the travel bans were "a wrong approach — it's misdirected and goes against the norms and advice by the WHO." The health minister pointed out that some countries had infection rates of 50,000 new cases per day, while on November 26 South Africa had reported 3,000 daily infections, which was up from the 300 reported two weeks previously. Tulio de Oliveira, the virologist who announced the discovery, also questioned the wisdom behind the flight bans. "Scientifically it does not make much sense. A lot of time people take decisions based on emotions not rationality," he said.

Here is a round-up of COVID news from around the world.

Europe

Health authorities in the Netherlands have been testing newly arrived passengers on two flights from South Africa on November 26. Tests are being conducted to determine whether any passengers are infected with the newly discovered Omicron variant of the coronavirus. According to the country's health ministry, around 600 passengers arrived on two flights on November 26. Initial tests showed that there could be around 85 positive COVID-19 cases. Passengers had to endure lengthy delays as tests were conducted.

According to a statement from the Dutch Health Ministry, passengers testing positive would be placed in isolation at nearby hotels. "Of the positive test results, we are searching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named ‘Omicron'," the statement said. Flights from southern African countries have been banned since South African medical authorities raised the alarm over the discovery of the new variant of the coronavirus.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said there is a "high to very high" risk that the new coronavirus variant call Omicron will spread in Europe. According to an ECDC risk assessment report the "overall level of risk for the E.U./EEA associated with SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron is assessed as high to very high." The variant has been found in Israel, Botswana, Hong Kong and in Belgium.

Americas

United States pharmaceutical company Moderna said on November 26 that it would develop a booster shot against the new Omicron variant. "The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning, and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant," said CEO of Moderna Stephane Bancel. The company said that its booster was one of three strategies it was working on to tackle the new threat.

Meanwhile, U.S. authorities have also moved to ban travelers from eight southern African states beginning on November 29. President Joe Biden said in a statement: "As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries," Biden said in a statement. "The news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations," Biden said.

kb/wmr (AFP, Reuters)

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