A number of countries have imposed entry restrictions on travelers from countries in southern Africa. South Africa believes they are being punished for good scientific work.
More and more countries, like Norway, have hastily introduced restrictions on travel from southern Africa. Australia, Brazil, Canada, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States have joined the United Kingdom and Germany, among others, and introduced restrictions to limit the spread of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa have also introduced restrictions.
South Africa, for its part, sees the restrictions as a punishment for the discovery of the variant.
“Excellent scientific work should be applauded, not punished,” the South African Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The ministry points out that the variant is found in several countries, and says that South Africa’s “test capacity and accelerated vaccination program, supported by a world-class scientific environment, should lead to calm among our global partners in the knowledge that we can handle the pandemic on an equal footing. them.”
On Saturday afternoon, the British Minister of Health, Sajid Javad, stated that the country had discovered its first two cases of infection with the new variant. The variant has previously been confirmed in Hong Kong, Botswana, Belgium and Israel, in addition to the country that first reported on it – South Africa.
According to the authorities in several of the countries, the cases of infection are linked to travelers from southern Africa.
Will go home
Several European citizens are trying to return home from South Africa. On Saturday, they filled up cafes at the airport in Johannesburg, while frantically trying to reach embassies and travel companies.
Many are trying to get tickets for flights via other African countries, such as Ethiopia and Congo, which are not yet blacklisted.
– There was no space on any of the planes, so we had to order new tickets. We took the first thing that was available, the German student Laura Herde tells AFP.
Others who had obtained tickets were Belgian Valerie Leduc and her friend. They will travel in three days via Ethiopia.
– We felt that we had done something criminal, said Valerie, who was not allowed to take the planned plane home via Zurich, after Switzerland shut down all aviation from South Africa.
Researchers are now working to find out more about the omicron variant, which seems to be more contagious than the dominant delta variant. The high number of mutations in the spike protein in the variant has led to concerns about whether the vaccines in use today will be less effective against it.
Several drug companies, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, have said they will adapt their vaccines to omicron. According to Pfizer and partner Biontech, it will take about 100 days to make the change.
The Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, Professor Andrew Pollard, is cautiously optimistic about the effectiveness of the vaccines against the variant. According to Pollard, most omicron mutations are in similar areas of the virus as previous variants.
– Despite those mutations, the vaccines have been effective against the previous variants. We have come through alpha, beta, gamma and delta, Pollard told BBC Radio.
– We are relatively optimistic that the vaccine should still work against the new variant, with a view to preventing serious illness, but we will probably have to wait several weeks to get it confirmed.
Oxford Vaccine Group is behind the vaccine for AstraZeneca.
Several experts have pointed out that the variant has come as a result of rich countries having hoarded vaccines. They believe it has led to an extension of the pandemic.
Less than 6 percent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated and millions of healthcare professionals and vulnerable people have not received the first dose. It contributes to faster spread of infection and more opportunities for the virus to mutate.
– One of the key factors in the emergence of new varieties may be low vaccination coverage in parts of the world. The WHO’s warning that no one is safe before everyone else is should be noted, says Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.
– Global rollout of vaccines is absolutely necessary, he says.