Op-Ed: Omicron is already in the U.S. Discriminatory travel bans for southern Africa need to end

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While the scientists of the world are scrambling to know its inner working omicron versionNot enough people are talking about the elephant in the room: the southern Africa travel ban that remains in place.

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When South African scientists identified a new coronavirus variant in their country, the Biden administration’s immediate response was to ban travel from eight African countries: South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. At that time only two countries – South Africa and Botswana Cases were confirmed. And a week after South Africa’s report, came the news that Europe had confirmed cases This was before South Africa identified the variant.

Last week, Biden announced new travel rules to help protect the Americans, but no mention was made of the lifting of the travel ban from southern Africa, even though the version now revealed dozens of countries, including America Sanctions discount too US citizens and permanent residents, which is clearly discriminatory against Africans. On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s Chief Medical Adviser, acknowledged that He Feels “Very Badly”Regarding the sanctions, which the US is reviewing and he hopes “will be able to lift … within a fairly reasonable amount of time.”


This redundancy in its response to the pandemic was a futile attempt to put out the Omicron variant – the first US case was reported in California on December 1. And it again shows the harmful and persistent stereotypes of Africa that can do enormous harm.

For generations, many outsiders have viewed the continent as a homogenous land of people whose lives are plagued by famine, war and disease – stereotypes perpetuated by the Western media. Emphasizing African conflict and corruption, Only in recent decades has there been a change towards a new “Africa is growing“The narrative, with Africans reclaiming ownership of their stories and their economic development.

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Nevertheless, South Africa has become the scapegoat in the latest chapter of COVID-19.

In countries outside the US Europe, ns Middle East And Asia closed its borders to Southern African travelers. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa shortly Global leaders reprimanded for their discrimination. Rather than accept the ingenuity of South African scientists identifying the new variant, the US and others chose to isolate the southern Africa region.

By banning travel from a wide area of ​​Africa single story novelist Chimamanda Adichie In his famous speech he warned about the dangers of telling a simplistic narrative about the continent. Many still consider Africa to be a country defined by the poorest people in the world. Despite the condition of African countries Economic Development and positive images popular cultureTravel restrictions reinforce old ideas that Africa is one low place Which should be avoided.

The pandemic has been plagued by nationalism and racism since its inception Trump fears “Chinese virus” to local Africans forced out by authorities in Guangzhou, China Reportedly from their homes amid COVID apprehensions. The Biden administration could have set a good example in working productively with South Africa, Africa’s third largest economy, and its neighbors, in sharing valuable public health information globally.

Instead, our leaders have missed a prime opportunity to give South Africa its due credit by changing the conservative narrative.

As the pandemic has shown the world, we are all in this together. Rather than distancing themselves with each new case or variant, countries need to team up to develop a coordinated global response that provides quick and equitable access to vaccines, combined with adequate tracing and vaccine mandates. It is – especially when making it easier for large populations of people who are not vaccinated. COVID to transform into new forms Like Omicron. Currently, only 11% of the population in Africa have received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 72% in the US and Canada and 63% in Europe.

Now that this edition has reached the US, it is up to the US to set the record straight by promptly lifting the absurd southern Africa travel ban. Help tell a new story – one that defies racism to praise South Africans for their efforts to protect not only their country, but all of humanity. It is an attitude that other countries would do well to emulate in the midst of a global crisis.

April L. Rafio is director of communications at the Duke Center for International Development at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.

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