SA punished for ‘wrong reasons’ over Covid variant

The travel bans ‘are completely against the norms and standards’ advised on by the World Health Organisation, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said.
Image: Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the travel bans imposed on the country, particularly by countries in the European Union, following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant in the country are “unjustified.”

The travel bans “are completely against the norms and standards” advised on by the World Health Organisation, he said on an online press conference on Friday. “That kind of action is knee-jerk and panic…It is a risk to disclose what you have found,” he said, adding that his country is being “scapegoated.”

South Africa, which before the pandemic, relied on tourism for 7% of gross domestic product and 1.5 million jobs, will be hard bit by the ban which comes at the start of the southern hemisphere summer holiday season.

The UK and a number of other countries have also halted flights to and from southern Africa. The UK, the biggest source of foreign tourists for South Africa, didn’t consult the country’s government before imposing a ban.

“This makes it less likely for countries with scientific capabilities to report when they find something,” said Nicholas Crisp, acting director general in South Africa’s Department of Health and the head of the country’s vaccination program.

He said the first he heard of the ban was a Whatsapp message from an official at the UK high commission, who apologised. He didn’t identify the official.

While the variant, known as B.1.1.529, was identified by South African scientists it has since been identified in Belgium in a traveler who arrived from Egypt, according the post of a government adviser on Twitter. Phaahla repeated the information at the press conference.

A case was also found in Israel and Botswana and Hong Kong have also reported finding cases. The Hong Kong case was someone who had traveled from South Africa while Botswana said the cases were in travelers, without saying where they came from.

While there have been breakthrough infections in people who have already been vaccinated there is no indication so far that they are severely affected, said Ian Sanne, a member of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Council on Covid-19, on the press conference

South Africa’s daily coronavirus infection number rose to 2 828 on Friday from 2 465 the day earlier, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases. The proportion of positive tests rose to 9.2% from 6.5%.

Scientists around the world expressed the same concern that South African researchers have about the “constellation” of mutations found on the variant, Tulio de Oliveira, the head of gene sequencing institutions in South Africa, said on the press conference call. The World Health Organisation has termed the mutation a Variant of Concern and named it Omicron.

“We have been punished for the wrong reasons,” Sanne said.

© 2021 Bloomberg

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It does seem absurd that a country with only 2500 cases, a mask mandate, compulsory hand sanitizer stations and curfew has been put on the red list by a country with 45000 new cases who haven’t been wearing masks for months. SA scientists identify a variant already operating elsewhere and the country gets punished? Just does not make sense.
Isthe UK still upset that we sent back their Oxford vaccine perhaps??? Get over it Boris!

Politics and Mass hysteria.. the big countries needed a fall guy

From my non-academic reading of the development of this virus compared the most deadly outbreak of a similar strain a hundred years ago, the H1N1 “Great Influenza epidemic or the 1918 influenza pandemic”, I’m feeling more optimistic about the perhaps slowly wilting potency of the COVID-19 strain instead of becoming more panicked as we see variants developing and mutating.

If they follow the same path as the 1918 outbreak, we may see this current virus more swiftly becoming yet another seasonal ‘flu strain assisted by the modern development of vaccines.

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that the seasonal ‘flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year, while currently we are at 5,2m Covid-19 deaths. The 1918 ‘flu had some 500 million infections and about 50 million deaths, so our current pandemic is relatively less virulent, especially considering the huge increase in population in the last 100 years.

It’s worth noting that smallpox is estimated to have killed more than 300 million people since 1900 alone. But a massive global vaccination campaign put an end to the disease in 1977—making it the first disease ever eradicated. Smallpox was around for over 2000 years.

Perhaps MW could commission an article on the historical variance and virulence of this H1N1 virus over the least 100 years to put things into perspective, and that as a human species we are going to be infected with a number of strange diseases, but what defines us is how we deal with them. If we want to learn from the smallpox devastation of economies, let’s all get vaccinated for a start.

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