Omicron variant: Scientist warns how infectious strain may be
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After discovery of a new Covid variant nations such as the US and the UK have stated they will restrict travel from South Africa and other southern African countries. The measures are planned in an attempt to contain the new Omicron variant spreading there. US officials said flights from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be affected.
The EU has also taken measures to block flights from South Africa.
In a statement, US president Joe Biden called the move a “precautionary measure”.
Canada has also followed and blocked its borders to foreign travellers who have recently been to South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier declared the new variant to be “of concern”, naming it Omicron.
A “variant of concern” label is the most serious level in the WHO category.
The WHO said that preliminary evidence suggests there is an increased risk of re-infection.
However, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla told reporters that the flight bans against the country were “unjustified”.
South Africa has some of the world’s top epidemiologists and scientists, but has said that after the discovery of the Omicron variant it “should be applauded and not punished”.
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The South African Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said: “This 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.”
Referring to the travel restrictions, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said: “Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and business.”
The WHO has advised countries to impose travel restrictions in a way that is backed by data.
The organisation said restrictions should be imposed with a “risk-based and scientific approach”.
Several cases of the new variant have been identified in Europe, including two in the UK and one in Belgium.
The Omicron variant has also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.
The news comes as Europe is currently struggling with a record-breaking surge in coronavirus cases
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