Omicron COVID variant: restrictions on southern Africa “a kind of travel apartheid”, according to UN chief

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United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has denounced restrictions targeting southern African countries as a form of racist segregation in travel.

European nations are among the countries that have imposed travel restrictions after detection of the COVID variant Omicron.

“We have the tools to travel safely,” Guterres said after talks with African Union Commission President Moussa Faki Mahamat.

“Let us use these instruments to avoid this kind of, let me say, traveling in apartheid – which I think is unacceptable.”

Apartheid was a brutal system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa in which blacks and people of other racial groups did not have the same political and economic rights as whites and were forced to live separately from whites. .

Travel restrictions are targeting several countries after health experts tracking infections in the region first identified the Omicron variant.

“What is unacceptable is having a part of the world, which is one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy, condemned to a lockout when it is they who have revealed the existence of a new variant which, moreover, already existed in other parts of the world, including in Europe, as we know. There is therefore a very strong appeal that I am making, an appeal to common sense ”, a said Guterres.

The UN chief warned that the wave of travel restrictions risked jeopardizing Africa’s economic recovery and would not really stop the spread of the virus around the world.

Netherlands finds earlier cases of Omicron variant

Earlier this week, the Netherlands Institute of Public Health reported two local cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant dating back to November 19 and 23.

The cases predate those found among passengers who arrived in Amsterdam from South Africa on November 26.

Many other European countries – including Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy and Belgium – have announced that they have detected cases of the new strain of coronavirus.

On Monday afternoon, a hospital in Madrid reported an Omicron case in a 51-year-old man who returned from South Africa to Spain on Sunday and was showing mild symptoms.

Previously, Portugal said it had detected its first cases of the Omicron variant associated with players from the Belenenses SAD football club.

The country’s public health agency said preliminary tests suggested the 13 cases associated with gamers are linked to the Omicron. One of the players had traveled to South Africa, where the variant was first detected.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a “race against time” was underway to tackle the Omicron variant.

WHO on the Omicron risk level

The World Health Organization said the Omicron variant had a high number of mutations, some of them relating to and indicating “potential for immune escape and higher transmissibility.”

This means it is uncertain whether current COVID-19 vaccines will work against it, and whether the variant has the potential to spread faster.

Experts in South Africa said the variant was likely behind a “rapid increase in cases” over the past two weeks in the country, but it was too early to say whether the variant was more. serious.

WHO has urged countries to “ensure that mitigation plans are in place to maintain essential health services” in the event of a potential increase in hospitalizations.

The first case of Omicron was detected in South Africa on November 9. South African Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla condemned the recent travel bans as “counterproductive”, as many countries have now reported cases.

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