The African Union(AU) has warned nations globally against imposing quick travel bans on travellers from Africa, in the wake of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus described as more infectious.
Dr John Nkengasong, the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) noted that the history of the Covid-19 had revealed that travel bans served a little purpose in countering Covid-19 spread.
Instead, the AU called for increased surveillance and data sharing between nations , in addition to boosted vaccination of the “high-risk” populations.
“Africa CDC strongly discourages the imposition of travel ban for people originating from countries that have reported this variant. In fact, over the duration of this pandemic, we have observed that imposing bans on travellers from countries where a new variant is reported has not yielded a meaningful outcome,” Nkengasong said via a statement.
“Rather implementing PHSM should be prioritised.” PHSM refers to public health and social measures including face mask wearing, physical distancing, sanitising hands and adequate ventilation which the African body said had proven more effective alongside vaccination in battling the pandemic.
“While we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and sharing of expertise,” Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation said.
In her view, the ban amounted to punishing South Africa’s scientific community for discovering the variants. It also amounts to punishing the country’s advanced genomic sequencing technology that allowed the scientists to make the discovery.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished…Each of those cases have had no recent links with Southern Africa, but the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in Southern Africa,” she said in a statement, cautioning the abrupt decisions would dent local economies that were only starting to recover.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the new Covid-19 variant is one of concern, but did not recommend lockdowns. Instead, it called for more field investigations, enhanced vaccinations and full adherence to public health guidelines.
“Countries are asked to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants…. submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database,” WHO said on Friday.
The Omicron variant is reported to have more mutations, or alterations in structure which could help it hide from the immune responses of the body and make it more infectious.
It had been detected among several people in South Africa Gauteng province where the capital Pretoria and commercial capital Johannesburg are situated.
This comes even as the nations imposing restrictions on South Africa had themselves reporting rising cases of Covid-19, sparking critics to accuse the countries of shying away from the real problem.
“We know what we know (about Omicron) because South Africa has invested in advanced genomic sequencing,” Ingrid Katz, HIV Researcher and Associate Professor at the Harvard Medical School said.
“We owe them a debt of gratitude – not punishment. Transparency is critical in a global pandemic. We need to support these efforts collaboratively.”