‘Unjustified, counterproductive’: South Africa’s health minister reacts to travel ban over omicron Covid-19 variant

South Africa’s health minister Joe Phaala said that the reactions in the form of travel bans and measures by several nations, especially those in Europe and the UK, are entirely against WHO’s “norms and standards”.
A passenger holds his mobile phone while looking at an electronic flight notice board displaying cancelled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, on November 27, 2021, after several countries banned flights from South Africa following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant Omicron. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)
A passenger holds his mobile phone while looking at an electronic flight notice board displaying cancelled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, on November 27, 2021, after several countries banned flights from South Africa following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant Omicron. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)
Published on Nov 27, 2021 09:21 PM IST
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Written by Sharangee Dutta | Edited by Poulomi Ghosh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

With multiple countries imposing travel restrictions or bans on passengers arriving from South Africa owing to the discovery of new Covid-19 variant omicron, the country’s health minister Joe Phaahla has called the move “unjustified” and “counterproductive”.

“We want to assure South Africans and other people elsewhere in the world that we believe some of the reactions have actually been unjustified, referring here specifically to the reaction of countries in Europe, the UK, and a number of other countries,” Phaala said, according to Sputnik.

He further stated that the reactions in the forms of travel bans and other measures are entirely against the “norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organisation (WHO).”

Talking to reporters on Friday, the health minister said that the move is “very counterproductive reaction” and will make people feel that it’s a “risk to disclose” their findings, Al Jazeera reported.

His statements come as the US, UK, Japan, Brazil, Russia, and the 27-nation European Union (EU) have imposed travel curbs or bans on travelers from southern African countries. South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Lesotho are some of the nations from where passengers’ entry have either been banned or require the mandatory undergoing of additional measures.

On Saturday, Japan announced the addition of three more nations – Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, to its list of countries where travel curbs have been imposed. The restriction has already been announced for people arriving from Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe.

The WHO has termed the B.1.1.529 variant of Covid-19 as a ‘variant of concern’. The United Nations (UN) health agency’s southeast Asia director Poonam Khetrapal Singh on Saturday urged southeast Asian countries not to lose their guards, and boost surveillance and enhance vaccination in order to combat the new coronavirus variant.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom (UK) on Saturday confirmed its first two cases of omicron Covid-19 variant. The country’s health secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement as reported by AFP that they have moved “rapidly” and the patients are currently self-isolating while contact tracing is underway.

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