The government of South Africa has expressed deep concern over what it described as a hasty decision in placing travel restrictions on visitors from the country. According to reports, the United Kingdom placed a ban on travellers from the country after news of a new COVID variant was discovered in South Africa.
Reacting to the ban, the South African government has frowned at the decision saying it was "rushed" and would cause severe damage on "both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries."
News that the United Kingdom had temporarily suspended all flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Eswatini as a result of the discovery of a new COVID variant caused panic among travellers and citizens alike. In the notice, the UK claimed that its decision was due to the discovery of an aggressive mutation of the Covid-19 virus in South Africa.
As expected, the announcement by the United Kingdom cascaded an array of travel bans on the Southern African countries. Since late yesterday when the UK announced its decision, many European and Asian countries have followed suit – placing countries in the region on a no-flight zone list and restricting visitors from the region.
The European Commission proposed that its members activate the "emergency brake" on travel from countries in southern African and other countries affected to limit the spread of the new variant.
"All air travel to these countries should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant," Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union's executive arm, said in a statement. "And travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules."
Many critics, however, support the claims by the South African government that the travel bans were hasty, claiming that in the past, governments took days, weeks, or months to issue travel restrictions in response to new variants.
In this case, more than ten countries had released official statements announcing a travel ban on Southern African countries before a scientific report was released. Furthermore, the news of travel restrictions was announced before South African scientists finished their inaugural meeting with experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine the nature of the new COVID variant.
As at the time of this report, countries that have placed a travel ban on countries in the Southern African region include; Bahrain, Belgium, Britain, Croatia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malta, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Singapore.
Critics have again questioned the decision, saying that there are no medical proofs or reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) stating whether the new variants had the potentials of suppressing the vaccines.
The new variant, called B.1.1.529, has a "very unusual constellation of mutations," according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform. On the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells, the new variant has ten mutations, many more than the dangerous Delta variant, Professor de Oliveira said.
"Substantively NOTHING is known about the new variant," Roberto Burioni, a leading Italian virologist, wrote on Twitter, adding that people should not panic.
What are your thoughts?