Over 30 countries have imposed restrictions on travel from southern African countries as concerns rise over a new strain of coronavirus reported in South Africa last week.
The @WHO has identified a new COVID variant which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries.
— President Biden (@POTUS) November 26, 2021
The UK's Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said that Britain's decision to suspend flights and place six African countries on a quarantine risk was because southern Africa could pose "a substantial risk to public health."
The new coronavirus variant that emerged in South Africa "is of huge international concern" and could pose "a substantial risk to public health," Britain's health secretary said, explaining the country's decision to institute new travel restrictions. https://t.co/2UrM17UpBT
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 26, 2021
#UK suspends flights from #SouthAfrica, #Namibia, #Zimbabwe, #Lesotho, and #Eswatini due to a new COVID-19 variant, B.1.1.529, and concern that this new variant evades immunity. #14Nontheground #insightfordecisions https://t.co/LVcvPCbFyI
— 14 North Strategies (@14NStrategies) November 29, 2021
Last week, the EU told member states to suspend all travel from southern African countries.
— Greek Reporter (@GreekReporter) November 26, 2021
Twitter users and critics have lashed out at the ban, with Biden's former advisers warning that travel restrictions would do little to stop the spread of the new variant and advising instead that it increase the number of vaccines it is delivering to Africa.
This is where vaccine apartheid, hoarding, delays on IP waiver has led us. New travel restrictions will punish Africa further – GDP and economic growth implications, trade will be affected and the gap widens b/ween the haves and the have-nots #VaccInEquity https://t.co/PmkQzEjsOG
— Dr. Ayoade Alakija (@yodifiji) November 25, 2021
@WinnieByanima is right. South Africa needs to be praised for fast sequencing (amongst best in world) and transparency. Developed countries need to respond to #COVID19 #Omicron by getting vaccines to poor countries fast – travel restrictions are not the answer.
— Sarah Cliffe (@sarah_cliffe) November 29, 2021
Joe Biden's travel ban on people who have been in South Africa, and nearby countries, has been compared to Trump's travel restrictions on China, where the virus originated in January 2020.
At the time, public health officials said a travel ban would discourage transparency and impose a financial toll on the country itself.
Biden's tweet from February 2020, opposing it, is now being circulated:
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) November 26, 2021
The World Health Organisation has called for countries not to ban flights until more information is discovered about the new Omicron variant.
WHO's regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions. https://t.co/xIiMd8Ve3f
— 4 News Now (@kxly4news) November 29, 2021
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for restrictions to be removed on the grounds that it is unjustified and unfairly discriminates against southern African countries.
VIDEO | President Cyril Ramaphosa has slammed the travel restrictions that have isolated southern Africa, following the discovery of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. #omicron #covid19 #travelbans pic.twitter.com/kUxu6Dqb9X
— SABC News (@SABCNews) November 29, 2021
"The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic," he said.
The discovery of the new variants, he added, should be a "wake up call that vaccine inequality should not be allowed to continue. Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone will continue to be at risk."
Several users have questioned why European countries have not had a travel ban imposed on them, despite also reporting cases.
South Africa: We have detected a new variant
WEST: Introduce travel restrictions on SA and surrounding countries
Belgium: We have detected the Variant that was first detected from South Africa
WEST: How is it? Send us data so we can learn more about it.
— Robert Cyubahiro McKenna (@RobCyubahiro) November 27, 2021
[MUST WATCH] Coach of the African Unions vaccine delivery alliance Dr Alowaji Alakhije. Talking about the Omicron Covid variant and questioning the travel restrictions posed mainly on africa.
Video 1 pic.twitter.com/K9OewVZloR
— Sipho Ngubane (@ngubane_1) November 28, 2021
"Had the first covid virus identified in China last year originated in Africa, it is now clear that the world would have locked us away and thrown away the key. There would have been no urgency to develop vaccines because it would have been expendable. Africa would have become known as the continent of covid," said Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, co-chair of the AU's African vaccine delivery alliance.
"What is going on right now is a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner. It is as a result of hoarding by high income countries of the world. And quite frankly, it is unacceptable. These travel bans are based in politics and not in science. It is wrong."
Journalist Samira Salwani quotes from Africa CDC Director Dr John Nkengasong:
After stockpiling vaccines – countries like the U.K. have now added 6 African Countries to its red list.
2nd March 2021:
"They (US & Europe) will finish vaccinating, impose travel restrictions & then Africa becomes "the continent of Covid""-@AfricaCDC director Dr John Nkengasong
— Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) November 26, 2021
The Malawian government has accused Western countries of Afrophobia:
The Malawian government says that the travel ban that UK, US, EU and other countries have imposed on some southern African countries including South Africa and Malawi are tantamount to Afrophobia and not based on science. #sabcnews
— SAfm news (@SAfmnews) November 28, 2021
Several users have expressed concern that the restrictions will discourage other countries to come forward with such information in fear of similar restrictions.
I stand behind what I said – This is a terrible message we're sending to South Africa and other nations who are willing to be forthright and share important information
— Ingrid Katz (@IngridKatzMD) November 28, 2021
"I think it's unfortunately very punitive," @ScottGottliebMD tells @margbrennan of travel restrictions on South Africa and other nations, but notes that they "can buy a couple of weeks" of lead time to slow the spread in the US. pic.twitter.com/wTodKcwbZ9
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) November 28, 2021
"Unfortunately we are punishing South Africa for doing the right thing."
As an alternative, infectious diseases scientist Isaac Bogoch has said it is time to consider a more global response.
Given that Omicron is increasingly identified in countries all over the world (including in people with no connection to southern Africa), now is a good time to reconsider travel restrictions to African countries & move toward a more productive/coordinated global response.
— Isaac Bogoch (@BogochIsaac) November 28, 2021