The World Health Organization (WHO) has severely reprimanded countries for implementing quick travel bans on Africans, noting that such measures should be based on scientific evidence rather than preconceptions.
In reaction to the Omicron version, which was first detected in South Africa by scientists, countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, and others have put travel bans on students and visitors from numerous African countries. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, urged countries to follow science and international health regulations rather than imposing travel bans.
“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of Covid-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Moeti said in a statement. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.”
Moeti congratulated South Africa for adhering to international health laws and contacting WHO as soon as the Omicron variety was discovered by its national laboratory. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa has expressed his displeasure with the travel prohibitions. “This is a clear and completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting of G20 countries in Rome last month,” Ramaphosa said.
“The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing (it)…will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to…the pandemic.”
Travel prohibitions have been questioned for the financial and personal costs they impose, particularly on international students. Those stuck overseas would be unable to complete any practical assignments, and scientists would be unable to attend labs. Considering the majority of students, online learning is neither an option nor a viable choice. The majority believe it is not worth the investment they spent for quality, face-to-face education. Many people discover that their mental health suffers as a result of their lack of human interaction.
The travel limitations were harshly criticized by South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” said Pandor in a statement. “(The bans were) akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker”. When additional varieties were identified elsewhere in the world, the reaction was radically different, according to the statement.
“We had been on the British red list and we worked our way out of it and with no notification we find ourselves back on the red list,” said South Africa’s Minister of Tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu. “Perhaps our scientists’ ability to trace some of these variants has been our biggest weakness,” Sisulu said. “We’re finding ourselves punished for the work that we do.”
Increased surveillance at points of entry, or even lengthier quarantine periods, according to African health professionals, would have been a preferable solution.
“This will just discourage different countries from sharing information which might be very important for global public health,” said Thierno Balde, incident manager for the Covid-19 emergency response for the WHO’s regional office in Africa.