Covid: South Africa ‘punished’ for detecting new Omicron variant

The foreign ministry made the statement as countries around the world restricted travel from southern Africa as details of the spread emerged.

Early evidence suggests Omicron has a higher re-infection risk.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that the new variant was “of concern”.

Several cases have now been identified in Europe – two in the UK, two in Germany, one in Belgium and another one in Italy, while a suspected case was found in the Czech Republic.

The new variant has also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

Hundreds of passengers arriving in the Netherlands from South Africa are being tested for the new variant.

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A statement by the South African foreign ministry on Saturday strongly criticized the travel bans.

“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said.

The bans were “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker”.

The statement added that the reaction had been completely different when new variants were discovered elsewhere in the world.

An African Union official told the BBC developed countries were to blame for the emergence of the variant.

“What is going on right now is inevitable, it’s a result of the world’s failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner. It is as a result of hoarding [of vaccines] by high-income countries of the world, and quite frankly it is unacceptable,” said AU vaccine delivery alliance co-chair Ayoade Alakija.

“These travel bans are based in politics, and not in science. It is wrong… Why are we locking away Africa when this virus is already on three continents?

·  Australia announced on Saturday that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique would be suspended for 14 days. Non-Australians who have been in those countries in the past two weeks are now banned from entering Australia

·  Japan has announced that from Saturday, travellers from much of southern Africa will need to quarantine for 10 days and take a total of four tests during that time

·  India has ordered more rigorous screening and testing for travellers arriving from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong

·  Canada is barring all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini or Mozambique in the last 14 days?

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