South African president Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation this evening following the resurgence of
the Covid-19 pandemic with the new variant, Omicron. In his address, Ramaphosa has called for countries
who have imposed travel bans on southern Africa to immediately rethink their decision; the South African
cabinet has moved to not place the country in a hard lockdown.
Ramaphosa called on countries that imposed travel restrictions on South Africa to lift the “unjustified,
discriminatory” bans before further economic damage is caused.
“We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of
southern African countries following the identification of the Omicron variant. This is a clear and
completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting
of G20 countries in Rome last month,” he said, announcing that South Africa would stay on lockdown
alert level 1.
The travel bans imposed by certain countries are in the wake of the B.1.1.529 variant, known as Omicron,
first identified and reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by South Africa on November 24.
According to WHO, the epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct
peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. In recent weeks,
infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of the Omicron variant. The first known
confirmed Omicron infection was from a specimen collected on November 9.
Although the country has seen cases rise from 2% to 9 % in less than a week, Ramaphosa noted that the
reason behind keeping South Africa at alert level one is the country does have “tools” to protect citizens
from the variant. These tools include improving the vaccination process because “vaccines do work,
vaccines are saving lives”.
“Vaccination is also vital to the return of our economy to full operation, to the resumption of travel and to
the recovery of vulnerable sectors like tourism and hospitality,” Ramaphosa reiterated.
“In taking the decision not to impose further restrictions at this stage, we considered the fact that when
we encountered previous waves of infection, vaccines were not widely available and far fewer people were
vaccinated. That is no longer the case.”
This is why the president said he was dismayed by other countries across the globe taking the
“unjustified” choice to ban southern African countries from traveling here and vice versa.
“They pledged at that [G20] meeting to restart international travel in a safe and orderly manner,
consistent with the work of relevant international organizations…” Ramaphosa said. “The G20 Rome
Declaration noted the plight of the tourism sector in developing countries, and made a commitment to
support a ‘rapid, resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery of the tourism sector’.”
Countries that have already banned travel from South Africa
Multiple countries across the globe have imposed a travel bans from most countries situated in southern Africa. The restrictions applies to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The South Africa government stated in a press release on November 26 2021, that they noted the temporary ban on all flights from the Southern parts of Africa, including South Africa from entering the UK due to the new variant.
While they respected the decision, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said they do feel the ban “seems to have been rushed as even the WHO is yet to advise on the next steps.”
Minister Naledi Pandor said “Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries.
Also on Friday the European Union had reportedly also moved to ban flights from southern African countries.
According to Bloomberg, The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control labeled the strain as a “variant of concern,” its most severe category.
Other countries that have reportedly imposed travel bans to countries in southern Africa:
- Sri Lanka
- The United Arab Emirates
Ramaphosa has called upon countries imposing travel bans on the southern African region to urgently reverse the imposition before any further damage is done to the economy and to the livelihoods of people.
“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic”