The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has condemned the travel bans imposed on southern African countries following the discovery of the Omicron Covid-19 variant saying the restrictions by several countries across the world were a regrettable knee-jerk reaction.
European and North American countries banned travel to and from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, after the variant was first detected in the region.
In a statement, SADC chair and President of Malawi Dr Lazarus Chakwera condemned the response of the countries over the new variant which has so far been reported in 23 countries around the world.
“It is now known that the new variant was already present in various western countries, including the Netherlands, before its discovery by South Africa.
“Southern African countries that have not reported a single case of the variant such as Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi and Mozambique have been red-listed for international travel.
“We denounce this apparent targeting of countries in our region and reiterate that the travel bans are a show of lack of global solidarity and in contradiction to the International Health Regulations (2005), that mandate countries to share information on diseases of major public health concern, in a timely manner,” he said.
President Chakwera said what South Africa did to alert the world about the existence of a new variant that was already circulating around the world, was commendable.
He applauded South African scientists for the speed with which they notified the World Health Organisation about the new variant.
President Chakwera said scientists around the world agreed that travel bans would have no impact in reducing the spread of the new variant.
The immediate results of this action were the hurting of an already fragile tourism sector, reduction of transportation of essential goods, including the much needed vaccines and test kits for Covid-19, and acceleration of the contraction of economies in the region.
“It is unfortunate that these measures have been imposed without any reference to scientific evidence and are clearly discriminatory and unfair to the citizens of our region.
“These measures will embolden sceptics of Covid-19 vaccines, and seriously affect the vaccine uptake not only in southern Africa, but also on the continent and beyond.
The United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) have also condemned travel restrictions saying they are unfair, punitive, ineffective and smack of apartheid.
Meanwhile, the SADC Business Council (SADC BC) has also condemned the harsh and unjustified steps taken by developed countries as well as some developing countries to impose travel restrictions to and from Southern Africa.
“The SADC Business Council notes with concern the latest reports of the new Covid-19 variant which was first officially reported by South African scientists and the subsequent placing of Southern African countries on various countries’ red lists, effectively banning travel from Southern Africa to these countries.
“The travel bans and restrictions imposed on SADC countries lack scientific basis, are discriminatory and are in contradiction of the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines that cautions against the closure of borders as a Covid-19 health and safety measure.
“The SADC BC welcomes the attention by the international community on this new Covid-19 variant to save lives and reduce it spreading across the globe. However, we condemn the harsh and unjustified steps taken by developed countries as well as some developing countries to impose travel restrictions to and from Southern Africa nations,” said the body.
“As a SADC business community, we would like to emphasise that we remain open for all those travellers who wish to visit and we are committed to providing a safe destination for travellers visiting our shores.
“We will continue to work closely with SADC member States to comply with, and advocate enforcement of all necessary health and safety measures against the Covid-19 pandemic.”
SADC BC urged the private sector and governments in the region to provide incentives to encourage vaccinations.
WHO said blanket travel bans would not prevent the international spread of the variant and could hurt the global Covid-19 response as it would discourage countries from reporting new variants.