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Social media users rally against 'vaccine apartheid' and 'Afrophobia' as travel bans come into force

People receive Covid-19 vaccine in a health centre in Cairo, Egypt on 15 November 2021 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]
People receive Covid-19 vaccine in a health centre in Cairo, Egypt on 15 November 2021 [Stringer/Anadolu Agency]

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 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."

Last week, the EU told member states to suspend all travel from southern African countries.

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.

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.

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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:

The World Health Organisation has called for countries not to ban flights until more information is discovered about the new Omicron variant.

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.

"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."

READ: Israel bans arrivals from most of Africa over new coronavirus variant

Several users have questioned why European countries have not had a travel ban imposed on them, despite also reporting cases.

"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:

The Malawian government has accused Western countries of Afrophobia:

Several users have expressed concern that the restrictions will discourage other countries to come forward with such information in fear of similar restrictions.

"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.

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AfricaCoronavirusEUInternational OrganisationsSouth AfricaTwitter TrendsWHO
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