WHO slams countries for putting travel bans on southern Africa, saying it 'attacks global solidarity'

By Sinéad Baker

The World Health Organization criticized countries for putting travel bans on southern Africa over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, saying such an action "attacks global solidarity."

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said in a Sunday statement: "With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity. COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions.

"We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions."

The WHO labeled Omicron a coronavirus "variant of concern" on Friday. Scientists are concerned over its high number of mutations, but do not yet know what exact risks it poses to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

The variant was first detected in South Africa and Botswana, and a small number have now been spotted in other countries in Asia, North America, and Europe.

Many countries have put travel bans in place from countries in southern Africa.

South Africa said on Saturday that it felt it was being punished for finding the strain and warning the world, rather than praised.

"Excellent science should be applauded and not punished," South Africa's foreign ministry said on Saturday, the BBC reported.

"This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker."

Thierno Balde, the incident manager of the WHO's regional office in Africa's COVID-19 emergency response, said travel bans "will just discourage different countries for sharing information which might be very important for global public health," The New York Times reported.