South Africa, WHO call to reverse travel bans, say Omicron mostly mild

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is calling on countries to “urgently” reverse travel bans linked to the discovery of the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to urgently reverse their decisions and lift the bans they have imposed before any further damage is done to our economies,” he says in his first address to the nation following last week’s detection of the new variant.

Israel is one of dozens of countries that have blacklisted South Africa and its neighbors since South African scientists flagged Omicron last week.

“The prohibition of travel is not informed by science,” Ramaphosa says.

“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 adds.

“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries.”

The head of the World Health Organization in Africa also urged countries to follow the science rather than imposing flight bans.

“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” says WHO regional director general Matshidiso Moeti.

“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19, but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” the WHO says in a statement.

Although the World Health Organization has defined Omicron a variant of concern, scientists are still assessing its virulence.

Israeli officials and others have said the vaccine appears to be effective against the variant, at least in regard to preventing serious cases or death.

Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, tells the AFP that most carriers of the variant appear to have only mild cases.

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