South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said that other countries’ decisions to impose travel restrictions amid concerns over the detection of a heavily mutated variant of Covid-19 in his country are “unjustified.”
In press statements, the minister added, “The kind of knee-jerk reaction, it really doesn’t make sense,” Phaahla said at a media briefing, adding that travel bans violate the norms and standards of the World Health Organization.
He slammed other nations for “wanting to put the blame” and ascribing the variant to South Africa rather than working collaboratively to address the situation as guided by the WHO.
“Covid-19 is a global health emergency. We must work together, not punish each other,” Phaahla said. “Witch hunts don’t benefit anyone. South Africa wants to be an honest player in the world, to share health information not just of benefit to South Africans and citizens of the world.”
The new variant, known as B.1.1.529, has been detected in small numbers in South Africa. The WHO on Friday assigned the Greek letter Omicron to the variant.
Phaala said preliminary studies suggest the variant may be more transmissible due to is genetic composition but noted that vaccines are still effective in preventing severe Covid from the variant.
Reports on Friday morning said cases of the new variant have been found in Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium.
Earlier Friday, the WHO urged countries not to hastily impose travel bans linked to the new variant of the virus, saying they should take a “risk-based and scientific approach,” Reuters reported.
However, several European and Asian nations have already reacted by imposing temporary travel bans on southern Africa.