African countries

Why restrictions on southern African countries are called “travel apartheid”

South African President Cypril Ramaphosa last week said the restrictions punish the very people and governments that have helped inform the world of a new variant of the coronavirus

Travel restrictions imposed on countries in southern Africa – where Omicron was first identified – by dozens of countries, including the United States and Britain, are being called “travel apartheid.”

This, even if the latest variant regarding transmissibility and its ability to evade immunity is poorly understood and with Africa continuing to have some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world due to ‘lack of access to doses.

But who coined the term travel apartheid? What did world leaders say? And what do experts say about such restrictions?

Let’s take a quick look at this:

Who coined the term?

The term “travel apartheid” was first used by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said travel restrictions imposed on COVID-19 that isolate a country or region as “not only deeply unjust and punitive – they are ineffective ”.

Speaking to reporters in New York City, Guterres said the only way to reduce the risk of transmission while allowing travel and economic engagement was to repeatedly test travelers, “along with other appropriate measures and really effective “.

“We have the tools to travel safely. Let us use these instruments to avoid this kind of, let me say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable, ”Guterres said.

Guterres has long warned of the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are “fertile ground for variants.”

Which leaders have criticized the travel restrictions?

Nigeria denounced UK travel restrictions on Monday after being placed on the redlist over fears over the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

“What is expected is a holistic approach, not a selective one,” said Sarafa Tunji Isola, Nigeria’s high commissioner to the UK. BBC.

“The travel ban is apartheid in the sense that we are not dealing with an endemic,” Isola said. “We are dealing with a pandemic. Whenever we have a challenge, there has to be collaboration. “

“These travel bans are not justified,” African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said at the joint press conference with Guterres after the annual meeting between the United Nations and the African Union .

Last week South African President Cypril Ramaphosa, speaking at the Dakar International Peace and Security Forum, said the restrictions punished the very people and governments who helped inform the world of a new variant of the coronavirus.

“When South African scientists discovered Omicron… they immediately took responsibility for informing the world, the whole world, that a new variant was emerging. And what is the result? ” Ramaphosa asked, responding that it was a punishment.

Ramaphosa further denounced the bans as “hypocritical, harsh and unsupported by science”.

“We say these bans must be lifted with immediate effect,” he said.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, at the same event, underlined the importance of international solidarity in this period of uncertainty.

“The emergence of a new variant in several countries reminds us that we are all exposed … and in a state which commits us to be resilient, determined and combative if necessary in the face of the misdeeds of a dual health and economic regime. crisis, ”he said, noting that Africa is also“ particularly vulnerable to climate change, the intensification of terrorist attacks and the resurgence of coups d’état. The urgency is there.

Sall said that no government, nation or individual continent can provide collective security, only international solidarity. “Environmental and health sectors, organized crime, hacking, cybercrime, migration and all other cross-border challenges, no country can tackle it alone,” said Sall. “This means that peace and security in Africa is an integral part of peace and security in the world. “

Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera wrote on Facebook: “COVID measures must be based on science, not afrophobia. “

What the experts say

According to The GuardianWHO COVID-19 technical officer Maria Van Kerkhove said travel bans had limited the ability of South African researchers to ship virus samples out of the country. “We don’t want countries to be penalized for sharing information, because that’s how WHO and our partners do assessments and provide advice,” she said.

Dr Saumitra Das, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, said India today the Indian government must make political decisions to restrict the spread of the Omicron variant, but closing the borders is not a solution.

Shabir A Madhi, professor of vaccinology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, told the outlet that imposing travel bans is a “naive” solution.

“Unhappy language”

Talk to BBCUK Government Minister Kit Malthouse said the wording “travel apartheid” was “very unfortunate language”.

“We understand the difficulties created by these travel restrictions, but we are trying to buy some time for our scientists to work on the virus and assess how difficult it is going to be,” he told the BBC.

With contributions from agencies

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