WHO Condemns the Severe Travel Bans Imposed on Southern Africa

Alejandro Betancourt

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According to the office for Africa of this UN agency, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement today condemning the severe travel restrictions imposed on southern Africa and calling for policies to be based on evidence and support for African nations.

"Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of Covid-19, but they impose a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," the WHO Africa office said in a statement.

"If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive and should be based on science, according to the International Health Regulations (2005) which are mandatory," the text adds.

The World Health Organization's Africa director Matshidiso Moeti praised the "speed and transparency of South African and Botswana's governments" for "informing the world" about this new strain.

"WHO stands with African countries that have had the courage to courageously share life-saving public health information, helping to protect the world against the spread of Covid-19," Moeti added, according to the statement.

He also urged countries to "respect their legal obligations and implement science-based public health" because it is "crucial" that countries that share data receive support.

"With the omicron variant already detected in various regions of the world, putting travel restrictions focused on Africa attacks global solidarity. Covid-19 constantly exploits our resignations," Moeti stressed.

Last Thursday, scientists and health authorities in South Africa announced the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus (identified as B.1.1.529), dubbed omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO), from samples taken between November 14 and 16.

At the same time, four Botswana infections and one in Hong Kong (China) had already been discovered due to a traveler from South Africa.

Other countries have also reported infections with the omicron variant, including Israel, Belgium (a traveler from Egypt with no apparent connections to South Africa), Australia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized that some of these new variants indicate a greater transmission capacity than the previous variants, designated as a risk variant this Friday.

Even though there was little information to go on (as a result of early detection), several countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union nations, imposed strict travel restrictions on southern Africa's nations almost immediately.

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