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CAUTION: African Union warns over restrictions over new variant.

Arans Tabaruka

By Arans Tabaruka – Kampala
AFRICAN DOSSIER PRESS

The World is faced with a new COVID19 Omicron variant threat.

The African Union has cautioned countries across the world against imposing quick travel bans on travellers from the continent, in the wake of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus said to be more infectious.

Dr John Nkengasong, the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said the history of the pandemic had indicated travel bans served little purpose in managing the spread of the virus.

Instead, the continental body was encouraging more surveillance and data sharing between countries, in addition to increased vaccination of the “high-risk” populations.

“Africa CDC strongly discourages the imposition of travel ban for people originating from countries that have reported this variant. In fact, over the duration of this pandemic, we have observed that imposing bans on travellers from countries where a new variant is reported has not yielded a meaningful outcome,” Nkengasong said in a statement.

The Africa CDC’s stance after South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced it had detected a new variant, seen as a superbug version of the SARS-COV-2, the virus causes Covid-19.

It was officially labelled as B.1.1.529 and the World Health Organisation christened it Omicron variant.

Dr John Nkengasong, the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC)

But hours after its detection, Western countries including UK, Germany and the US imposed flight bans on South Africa and six of its neighbours where the variant had been detected.

Canada, Morocco, Russia and several others also imposed bans on the southern African countries.

South Africa warned the quick bans could discourage further information sharing on scientific findings of the virus, making it difficult for the world to recover.

“While we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and sharing of expertise,” Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation.

She says the ban amounted to punishing the country’s scientific community for discovering the variants and the country’s advanced genomic sequencing technology that allowed the scientists to discover the variant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new COVID-19 variant one of concern but did not recommend lockdowns. Instead, it recommended more field investigations, enhanced vaccinations and full adherence to public health guidelines.

“Countries are asked to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants…. submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database,” the WHO communication.

The Omicron variant is said to have more mutations or changes in structure which could help it to dodge immune responses of the body and make it more infectious. It had been detected among several people in South Africa Gauteng province where the capital Pretoria and commercial capital Johannesburg are situated.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

But even the countries imposing restrictions on South Africa had themselves reported rising cases of Covid-19, leading critics to accuse the countries of looking away from the real problem.

In East Africa, Rwanda took the lead with immediate announcement of restrictions and reinstating the obligatory 24-hour quarantine in designated hotels for all persons arriving into Rwanda, effective Sunday 28 November 2021 at noon.

It is predicated many countries will follow suit to avert another COVID19 threat.

Rwanda's pronouncement on reinstating the obligatory 24-hour quarantine
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Arans Tabaruka
Arans Tabaruka

Editor and Africa correspondent

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