Anger simmers over Omicron travel bans in southern Africa

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Omicron, initially found in Botswana, has rekindled debate over the effectiveness of strict border closures and angered that South Africa’s transparency in reporting tensions has made the region a scapegoat.

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Scientists in South Africa were the first to identify the variant, which has since been found in countries around the world. It has now emerged that Omicron was already present in Europe before the travel restrictions were announced. It is still not known where Omicron originated.

And yet travel restrictions are aimed at southern Africa – including countries that still haven’t found evidence of the new version. This has prompted a wave of fury from African politicians and public health officials, who are angered by the lack of support they have received from the West, which they say is now discriminating against countries still desperate for vaccine doses. Huh.


That list has expanded rapidly since the weekend, despite warnings from researchers that the threat from the new version is not yet clear. And with it, there is criticism.

Countries that have banned travel include the United States, which has banned travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “It is deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being punished by others for doing the right thing. We urge all countries to be rational, proportionate, in keeping with international health regulations.” calls for risk mitigation measures.” In his opening remarks at the WHO briefing on Wednesday.

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical chief on COVID-19, said travel restrictions have limited the ability of South African researchers to send virus samples from the country, “so these travel restrictions have other implications that are out there.”

“We don’t want to see countries penalized for sharing information, because that’s how WHO and our allies assess and advise how we are,” she said.

Addressing the United Nations World Tourism General Assembly in Madrid on Wednesday, South African Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu denounced the restrictions and called on Spanish authorities to make it “impossible” for Southern African delegates to attend due to the new travel restrictions. Called. ,

“For reasons that are unknown to us, many countries imposed travel restrictions on South Africa. Surprisingly, even Spain, which hosts this UNWTO General Assembly, has all the immunities inherent in UN organizations. As with most SADC countries, red-listing makes it impossible for my colleagues in these countries to participate in this important event.” Sisulu said,

Africa’s fury over the sanctions spread internationally as hundreds of people also expressed their anger on social media.

“This non-advisory travel ban (which must be revoked immediately) has a supposedly negative consequence. South Africa deserves praise, not punishment, for alerting the world,” tweeted Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

a stereotype of africa

“There is no escaping the fear of the virus that exists in Africa,” Remi Adekoya, a political analyst and lecturer at the University of York in England, told Granthshala. “It conjures up all kinds of terrifying images in people’s minds about a catastrophe like Ebola.”

a . Fear-related behaviors played a significant role in shaping the 2013–2016 West Africa Ebola outbreak, according to the authors of Public Health Emergency COVID-19 Initiative Report,
The Netherlands says the Omicron variant was earlier than previously thought in the country

Images of the Ebola virus’s snake-like appearance and depictions of dangerous bats remained in observers’ consciousness longer, the report found. When new viruses are found on the continent, it can cause panic.

“When fear, the ‘motivational state’, turns into actions, individual fear behaviors manifest at a holistic level and can spread rapidly and infectiously, in epidemiological fashion, among groups of people who share the fear. and observe each other’s behavior.”

Adekoya says that these fears date back to the 19th-century mythology of Africa in films and news reports.

“The Dark Continent” still resonates psychologically around the world and that is why any virus or disease coming from Africa would be instinctively feared,” he said. “Had the variant been discovered elsewhere, the response would have been very different.”

economic damage

studies show travel ban Slows the spread of the virus by only a few weeks, and the WHO has repeatedly pointed out that travel restrictions cripple economies and prevent countries from coming forward about new viruses and variants.

Adekoya fears the travel restrictions could be “absolutely catastrophic for African economies”. To fight this, he suggested that leaders stand before their international counterparts.

“Africa needs to apply maximum diplomatic pressure on Western governments to come up with scientific evidence about what is really happening. What is this version? How deadly is it? And how long does this travel ban last?” need to?”

According to Mara Pillinger, a senior associate at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law School in Washington, DC, the choice of travel restrictions has more to do with a lack of political appetite and less to do with taking on the virus. concrete measures to prevent the spread of

My uncle died of Covid-19 in Kenya before I got the vaccine, and I found it in an American drugstore.  This is what the vaccine disparity looks like

“When governments impose travel restrictions, it’s symbolic — they’re trying to give the impression that they’re taking action to protect themselves,” Pillinger told Granthshala. “But partial measures are not effective. It’s like plugging one hole into a leaky bucket but allowing another hole to leak out.”

The explanation given by government leaders in support of travel restrictions is that it buys time, he continued. “But we already know what we need: a combination of vaccines, masks, better ventilation, testing and social distancing where possible.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation on Sunday that he was “deeply disappointed” by what the West saw as “utterly unfair” actions.

“The travel ban has not been informed by science, nor will it be effective in stopping this type of spread,” he said. “The only thing that would impose restrictions on travel would be further damage to the economies of the affected countries and reduce their ability to recover and respond to the pandemic.”

During a joint press briefing with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, Ramaphosa urged the reimposition of sanctions.

Vaccine inequality

Dr. Ayode Alkija, co-chair of the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, told Granthshala that until vaccinations were introduced in some parts of the world, a new version was inevitable.

“We have to call the world on this. They are lashing out at us and abusing us,” she said. “Africa needs to find a collective voice. Our leaders need to wake up, recognize their geopolitical impact and recognize that they can do something right now.”

Of the more than 8 billion vaccines administered globally, only 6% are in Africa.

until October, less than 10% African countries are likely to hit them vaccination target, according to who. 5 million vaccines reached Africa by October (double the month before) but only 7.7 million Africans have been Fully vaccinated in one continent With a population of over 1 billion.

At the start of the pandemic, Africa was praised in some quarters for its relatively low number of cases and deaths, based in large part on strong policy responses.

a December 2020 report The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change also attributed the successes “in some cases to past experiences of infectious disease and innovations drawing on the continent’s growing strength in technology.”
However, as the cases increased parts of africa Last January – around the same time vaccines became available – rich countries hoarded massive amounts of money to vaccinate their populations, leaving developing countries behind.

Some critics argue that vaccine hesitation has led to low vaccination rates on the continent’s stem, a theory Alkija describes as “balderdash”. She points out that many countries got it in small amounts initially.

“There is also vaccine hesitancy in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped vaccines from becoming available, so that doesn’t hold water in theory,” Alkija said.

While supply challenges remain an issue in Africa, vaccine hesitancy is a harsh reality and “remains a major problem in many countries, including South Africa,” said Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, Told Granthshala’s Ivana Kottasova,

road ahead

COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX), an initiative aimed at equal access to vaccines, was accepted in October. Africa’s target This is unlikely to be partly responsible for the growing demands for critical vaccination supplies, including syringes, to vaccinate 40% of its people.
“The huge gap in vaccine equity isn’t closing anywhere fast enough. It’s time to open the door for vaccine manufacturing countries and help protect those facing the greatest risk,” said WHO regional director for Africa , Matshidiso Moeti, said in a statement earlier this year.

On Monday, Team Europe, a coalition of EU institutions, pledged to donate 500 million doses of COVAX to AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines to help low-income economies in the fight against Covid-19.

Donor countries include Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia.

Gavi, Vaccine Alliance, said on monday The first of these donations have already been shipped to Egypt, Nigeria, Lao PDR and Syria, with more to be distributed to countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden told the National Institutes of Health on Thursday that the new version will be fought “with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

But in Africa, Some experts say that South Africa “Science and speed” caused “chaos and confusion” to alert the international community about Omicron.

The way forward for Africa, Adekoya says, “has to be a huge economic enrichment so that it can dissociate itself from this nonsense of being at the mercy of others.”


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