South African health minister calls travel bans ‘unfounded’

Felix Hlof during the Vooma vaccination campaign on October 3, 2021 in Durban, South Africa. It is part of the government’s efforts to spur a nationwide vaccination campaign and address certain myths and fragments of misinformation that prevent young people from getting vaccinated. (Photo by Darren Stewart / Gallo Images via Getty Images)

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South African Health Minister Joe Fahla said Friday that decisions by other countries to impose travel restrictions amid fears over the discovery of a highly mutated variant of Covid-19 in his country are “unfounded.”

“This is a knee-jerk reaction, it doesn’t make any sense,” Fahla said at a media briefing, adding that travel bans violate World Health Organization norms and standards.

He accused other countries of “wanting to blame” and attribute this option to South Africa, rather than working together to fix the situation as directed by WHO.

“Covid-19 is a global health emergency. We must work together and not punish each other, ”Fahla said. “No one benefits from a witch hunt. South Africa wants to be an honest player in the world, sharing health information not only for the benefit of South Africans and global citizens. ”

A new variant, known as B.1.1.529, was discovered in small numbers in South Africa. WHO on Friday assigned the Greek letter omicron to the variant.

Faala said preliminary studies show the variant may be more transmissible due to its genetic makeup, but noted that vaccines are still effective in preventing severe Covid from this variant.

Reports Friday morning said cases of the new variant were found in Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium.

Earlier on Friday, WHO urged countries not to rush travel bans linked to the new variant of the virus, saying they should take a “scientific, risk-based approach.” Reported by Reuters.

However, several European and Asian countries have already responded by imposing temporary travel bans on southern Africa.

On Friday, a committee of health experts from all 27 EU countries “agreed on the need to activate an emergency break and place time limits on all travel to the EU from southern Africa,” Slovenia, the EU presidency, said on Twitter.

The UK also announced Thursday that it will temporarily suspend flights from six African countries, including South Africa, from Friday afternoon. The decision was taken without prior discussion with South Africa, Fahla said.

Deputy Health Minister Sibongiseni Dhlomo said at a press conference in the media that he believes there are signs that the United States will withdraw from other countries and will not impose a travel ban.

Earlier Friday, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN New Day that the US will speak with scientists in South Africa to “get the facts” about the new option. Fauci said the US is in “very active contact” with South African scientists to get the molecular makeup of this variant.

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