African Leaders Condemn Omicron Travel Bans After New Variant Identified

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Leaders across Africa are calling out the quickly-imposed travel bans following the identification of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera described the bans as "Afrophobia" while South Africa's Minister of Health Joe Phaahla called the measures "misdirected" and "draconian."

Multiple countries –– including the United States –– have implemented the travel bans on several southern African nations in response to South African researchers' identification of the newest variant last week.

Health experts warn that it's most likely too late to implement travel bans to prevent the variant's spread, especially since it's already been detected around the globe from Canada, Israel, and parts of Asia.

Instead of banning travel from South Africa and other countries, President Chakwera says we ought to thank the researchers for their actions.

"We are all concerned about the new covid variant and we owe South Africa's scientists our thanks for identifying it before anyone else did," President Chakwera wrote in a Facebook post Sunday (November 28).

"But the unilateral travel ban now imposed on [Southern African Development Community] countries by the UK, EU, US, Australia, and others are uncalled for. Covid measures must be based on on science, not Afrophobia."

The purpose of the World Health Organization's use of the Greek alphabet to name new variants was to avoid stigma associated with where the strains may be identified or discovered. The travel bans, leaders say, undermine those efforts and it's not the first time.

When the Delta variant was first discovered, it was repeatedly called the "Indian variant," similarly the "UK variant" was used to describe the strain of the virus found there.

WHO Africa Director, Matshidiso Moeti said Sunday that the travel bans "attack global solidarity" considering the fact the variant has already popped up all over the world.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he was "deeply disappointed" by the travel restrictions and called for them to be lifted immediately.

"The prohibition of travel is not informed by science," he said in a TV broadcast, adding that all the bans will do is "further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to and also recover from the pandemic."

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