Omicron: Foreign Nations Shutting the Door on Southern Africa

On Saturday, Iran mposed a travel ban on seven southern African countries, after Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant emerged. It joined many other nations outside Africa to shut the door on the south of the continent. 

South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, ESwatini, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Namibia all had travel ban imposed on them by Iran as announced by Mohammad Mehdi Gouya, head of Iran’s Centre for Disease Control. 

Iranians who are arriving from those countries have been mandated to present two negative PCR tests before being allowed entry into the country, while travels from the seven African countries have been banned.

Omicron, a variant with heavy mutations, was discovered some weeks ago and threatens to reverse the great work done in the past year or two on COVID-19. It was named a “Variant of concern” on Friday by the World Health Organisation and given a new name after the Technical Committee on SARS-COV-2 Virus Evolution met to discuss its potential.

The variant was initially named B.1.1.529, before being renamed Omicron by the World Health Organisation. 

Other countries of the world are thinking of a possible lockdown while nations including the UK, United States, Israel, Australia, Canada and others have begun to impose travel ban on southern Africa. African countries have also been urged to impose travel ban to prevent the variant from crossing borders. 

Africa has recorded about 9 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 220,000 deaths. 

South Africa is reporting the most daily infection with more than 4,000 cases everyday and may see the numbers go up in the coming days, depending on how well the spread of the virus is tackled as Omicron is said to have a higher rate of re-infection. The country has said it is being condemned over the new variant instead of being applauded for its excellence in discovering the new variant.

Omicron, a variant which may not be prevented with vaccination has seen African countries accusing the rest of the world of being responsible for its emergence through their hoarding of vaccines and vaccine nationalism.

With travel bans already imposed on many African countries, the African Union has said the move is more political than scientific.

“What is going on right now is inevitable, it’s a result of the world’s failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner. It is as a result of hoarding [of vaccines] by high-income countries of the world, and quite frankly it is unacceptable,” AU vaccine delivery alliance co-chair Ayoade Alakija told the BBC.

“These travel bans are based in politics, and not in science. It is wrong… Why are we locking away Africa when this virus is already on three continents?”

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