The EU and UK have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and yet more other countries continue to report identifying the deadly COVID-19 variant in their sequencing.
Despite a growing
number of countries impose flight bans on southern African nations due to
concerns over the new Omicron variant, World Health Organization (WHO) urges
countries to follow science and the International Health Regulations.
In a statement, the organization warns that travel bans may play a role in
slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and
"If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily
invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the
International Health Regulations which is a legally binding instrument of
international law recognized by over 190 nations", reads the statement in
South Africa informed WHO about the omicron variant on November 24th and
it has since been placed under variants of concern urging countries to be on the lookout for it.
However, the EU, US, and UK have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and
yet more other countries continue to report identifying the deadly COVID-19 variant
in their sequencing.
“The speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in
informing the world of the new variant are to be commended. WHO stands with
African countries which had the courage to boldly share life-saving public
health information, helping protect the world against the spread of COVID-19,”
said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa adding that a
special session on pandemic preparedness will sit on Monday to forge
the way forward.
"I urge all countries to respect their legal obligations and implement
scientifically based public health actions. It is critical that countries that
are open with their data are supported as this is the only way to ensure we
receive important data in a timely manner", she said.
While investigations continue into the Omicron variant, WHO recommends
countries to take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place
measures that can limit its possible spread.
Among these, she said flight bans shouldn’t be an option since already two other
countries have reported the strain.
“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting
in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity. COVID-19
constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if
we work together for solutions,” said Dr. Moeti.
Urging countries to take key steps to enhance efforts to track the
Omicron variant, including ensuring their PCR testing equipment can detect the
variant that is thought to mutate faster than the popular delta variant which
was first identified in India, WHO also calls for increasing sampling and
sequencing of COVID-19 test samples by at least double to 150 samples a week
from the current average of 75.
In September 2020, WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and
Prevention launched a network of 12 laboratories to reinforce genome sequencing
of the virus. Genomic surveillance has advanced significantly since the start
of 2021, with the continent recording a five-fold increase in the number of