Southern African leaders have expressed disappointment over decisions taken by several countries to ban travel from half a dozen Southern African Development Community member states (SADC) following the detection of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“The unilateral travel bans now imposed on SADC countries by the United Kingdom, European Union, United States and others are uncalled for. COVID-19 measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia,” Lazarus Chakwera, Malawi’s president, who is also currently chairman of the SADC, said late Sunday in a brief statement on his official Facebook page.
Speaking on Monday at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Dakar, Senegal, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned countries for their unfair travel restrictions.
"We must resist unjustified and unscientific travel restrictions that only serve to disadvantage developing economies,” Ramaphosa said.
Last week, South African scientists announced that they had discovered a new COVID-19 variant with a large number of mutations compared to previous variants and reported it to the World Health Organization (WHO), which named it omicron.
In an address to the nation Sunday night, Ramaphosa said the current travel restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against his country and neighboring southern African nations.
“The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant,’’ he said, adding the only thing the travel restrictions will do is further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to and recover from the pandemic.
“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to urgently reverse their decisions and lift the ban they have imposed before any further damage is done to our economies and to the livelihoods of our people,” he said.
The countries facing travel bans include South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Ramaphosa said the emergence of the omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue.
“Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone will be at risk. Until everyone is vaccinated, we should expect that more variants will emerge,” he said.
The South African leader further said that “instead of prohibiting travel, the rich countries of the world need to support the efforts of developing economies to access and to manufacture enough vaccine doses for their people without delay.”
Ramaphosa also called on his countrymen to get vaccinated and follow health guidelines to avoid getting infected in a country where close to 3 million cases have been reported so far and nearly 90,000 fatalities./aa