South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned travel bans enacted against his country and its neighbors over the new coronavirus variant Omicron.
Ramaphosa said he was “deeply disappointed” by the action, which he described as unjustified, and called for the bans to be urgently lifted.
The UK, EU and US are among those who have restricted travel from southern African countries over the new variant.
The heavily mutated variant was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by South Africa on Wednesday, and early evidence suggests it has a higher re-infection risk.
The WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should look to a “risk-based and scientific approach”. However, numerous bans have been introduced in recent days amid concerns over the variant.
In his speech on Sunday, Ramaphosa said there was no scientific basis for the travel bans and that southern Africa was the victim of unfair discrimination.
He also argued that the bans would not be effective in preventing the spread of the variant.
“The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,” he said.
He called on countries with bans in place to “urgently reverse their decisions… before any further damage is done to our economies”.
Ramaphosa described the emergence of the Omicron variant as a wake-up call for the world regarding vaccine inequality – warning that until everyone was vaccinated, more variants were inevitable.