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UN sounds the alarm on Africa’s travel bans à la Biden

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has condemned the rapid travel bans imposed on southern African countries last week in response to the discovery of a new Chinese variant of the coronavirus, saying on Monday he was “deeply concerned “by policies such as that adopted by the president. Joe Biden.

Guterres’ opposition to travel bans echoes that of the World Health Organization (WHO), a UN agency, leaders of targeted African countries, and Joe Biden in 2020.

While Biden accused his predecessor Donald Trump of racism, “xenophobia” and other epithets last year for restricting travel from countries with high numbers of Chinese coronavirus cases, Biden has banned travel to traveled from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi last week on an extended five-day vacation to upscale Nantucket.

Guterres did not name Biden personally, as several other countries – including those in Western Europe, the Middle East and Japan – have adopted similar policies. Japan on Tuesday documented its first case of the new variant of the Chinese coronavirus, dubbed “Omicron”, less than 24 hours after imposing its travel ban.

“I am now deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries due to new [Chinese coronavirus] travel restrictions, ”Guterres wrote in a statement Monday. “I call on all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, as well as other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the aim of avoiding the risk of transmission in order to enable travel and economic engagement. “

Guterres also praised South Africa for being the first country to identify Omicron and appeared to demand more global vaccine donations for the region.

“As I and others have long warned, low vaccination rates are fertile ground for variants,” Guterres wrote. “The African people cannot be blamed for the immoral level of immunization available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial scientific and health information with the world. “

While a South African lab first fully identified Omicron, the country’s government insists it is not an indigenous South African variant and evidence suggests that the first cases have arisen. produced in Botswana. The Botswana government has also denied that it was behind Omicron, accusing four foreign diplomats of bringing the virus into the country.

“We are concerned about attempts to stigmatize the variant and label a country where it was first detected as its country of origin,” Botswana Health Minister Edwin Dikoloti said on Sunday, refusing to identify the countries from which the supposedly infected diplomats came.
“This aspect of saying that it comes from Botswana is excluded,” Dikoloti nevertheless insisted.

Guterres’ opposition to the Biden travel bans follows several indignant statements from southern African heads of state, particularly South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We are deeply disappointed with the decision of several countries to ban travel from a number of countries in southern Africa following the identification of the Omicron variant,” Ramaphosa said in a speech on Sunday.

Travelers walk near an electronic flight display board displaying canceled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021, after several countries banned flights from South Africa as a result of the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19 Omicron. (PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP via Getty)

“This is a clear and totally unwarranted departure from the commitment many of these countries made at the G20 meeting in Rome last month. They pledged at this meeting to resume international travel in a safe and orderly manner. “

“These restrictions are unwarranted and unfairly discriminatory against our country and our sisterly countries in southern Africa,” Ramaphosa continued, urging Biden and others to “urgently revoke” the travel bans.

“The travel ban is not science-based and will also not be effective in preventing the spread of this variant,” Ramaphosa said, citing WHO’s opposition to such bans.

Lazarus Chakwera, the president of Malawi, accused Biden and other leaders of enacting travel bans of “afrophobia” in a Facebook post on Sunday.

“[Chinese coronavirus] measures must be based on science, not afrophobia, ”Chakwera wrote, specifically referring to travel bans by the United States and the West as“ unjustified ”.

WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement this week that travel bans “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods” and instead urged for “science-based” policies.

Prior to becoming president, Biden seemed to agree with these sentiments. Following Trump’s initial travel ban from China in early 2020 to slow the spread of the Chinese coronavirus, Biden denounced on Twitter that the policy reflected “hysteria, xenophobia and fear.” Biden then accused Trump of enacting an “African ban” explicitly “designed to make it more difficult for black and brown people to immigrate to the United States.”

Biden gave no clarity on the difference between his travel ban on African countries and Trump’s ‘African ban’ [sic] at press time.

The World Health Organization called Omicron a “variant of concern” last week based on the identification of many more mutations in its system than in previous variants. Scientists seem to know little about how it actually affects those infected, another fact the WHO has identified as cause for caution.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, a doctor who has treated South African Omicron patients, said in the UK Telegraph this week she observed extremely mild symptoms in her patients, including children.

“We had a very interesting case, a child about six years old, with a very high temperature and pulse, and I wondered if I should admit it. But when I followed up two days later she was doing so much better, ”Coetzee explained. She identified extreme fatigue as the most common symptom.

Coetzee warned that the virus could affect older people or those with chronic health conditions more severely.

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