The Secretary-General of the United Nations said South African countries have been punished for first detecting the new omicron variant of Covid-19.
Antonio Guterres made the statement Wednesday and appealed to the “common sense” of each nation in their approach to the variant. “What’s unacceptable is to have one part of the world — one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy — condemned to a lockout when they were the ones that revealed the existence of a new variant that, by the way, already existed in other parts of the world, including in Europe, as we know,” Guterres said, speaking to reporters.
Since scientists first discovered and reported their discovery of the new variant on November 24, over 50 countries have imposed travel bans or restrictions towards South African visitors and, in some cases, towards other countries in southern Africa. The new variant is believed to be highly transmissible so, out of an abundance of caution, many countries introduced restrictions.
“This is a very strong appeal that I launch, an appeal to common sense,” Guterres said, after completing a meeting with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat. “We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say — travel apartheid — which I think is unacceptable.”
Faki also condemned the measures, calling them unjust. “We’ve seen as a result of being transparent that most of Africa has been subjected to sanctions — flights between this region and a certain number of countries have been banned, and that is regrettable,” Faki said. He noted that due to “unequal distribution”, a mere 6% of South Africans are fully vaccinated.
The World Health Organization has continued to encourage people to social distance, get vaccinated, and follow other measures to prevent the spread. It has also warned that “blanket travel bans” are not effective at preventing the spread of the virus.