Travellers queue at a check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021, after several countries banned flights from South Africa following the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant Omicron. Photograph:( AFP )
South Africa said Saturday it's being "punished" for detecting the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries rush to enact travel bans and restrictions.
South Africa claims it is being penalised rather than praised for finding Omicron, a potentially dangerous new variant of COVID-19.
As facts about the spread surfaced, governments throughout the world banned travel from southern Africa, prompting the foreign ministry to issue the announcement.
According to preliminary findings, Omicron appears to have a higher risk of re-infection than other virus classes.
South Africa is home to some of the world's best epidemiologists and scientists, who have been successful in detecting new coronavirus variations and mutations early in their life cycles.
Watch: EU, US restrict travel from South Africa to contain new coronavirus variant
South Africa was the first place where the Omicron variant was discovered, and it has subsequently been found in Belgium, Botswana, Israel, and Hong Kong.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) in a statement urged world leaders not to implement "knee-jerk" policy decisions in response to the detection of the Omicron variant.
The latest round of travel bans is "akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker. Excellent science should be applauded and not punished," it said.
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DIRCO pointed out that new variants had been detected in other countries as well and "each of those cases had no recent links with Southern Africa".
However, "the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in Southern Africa," it said.
Along with South Africa, travel restrictions have been imposed on Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia, and Angola, damaging their economies, which are heavily reliant on tourism.
According to the WHO, Omicron is "variant of concern."
Countries all over the world are scrambling to impose travel bans and restrictions on southern African countries in order to stem the spread of Omicron.
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Travel to and from South Africa, as well as the neighbouring nations of Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, as well as Lesotho and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), which are all landlocked inside South Africa, has been outlawed.
Mauritius, Israel, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands are among the other nations.
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Many other nations followed suit, with the majority stating that only their own residents would be permitted to return after a period of quarantine.
(With inputs from agencies)