Ramaphosa addressed the South African nation on November 28 in a speech detailing recent developments regarding the coronavirus, international reactions to the newly discovered Omicron variant, and the government's response to the latest travel bans placed on Southern African countries.
Earlier in the previous week, South African scientists identified a new coronavirus variant that causes the COVID-19 disease named Omicron. The Omicron variant was declared a 'variant of concern' and was first described in Botswana and subsequently in South Africa, Belgium, Hong Kong, and Israel. Many countries worldwide have since imposed bans on passengers traveling from various countries in the Southern African region despite warning from the World Health Organization to take a 'risk-based and scientific approach to the emergence of this new variant. As a result, countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and Iran announced swift suspensions of flights from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and many other southern countries.
President Ramaphosa expressed his 'deep disappointment’ by the prohibition of travel from countries mentioned above following the identification of the Omicron variant. He added that South Africa is one of the countries globally that have set up a surveillance network to monitor the virus's behavior and that the country had already made provisions to control the importation of variants across borders.
'These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries,' he stated. He further added that the bans were not informed by science, nor will they effectively prevent the spread of the Omicron variant yet continue to damage the countries' economies on the receiving end of these haste decisions. Furthermore, he called on these countries to 'urgently reverse their decisions' before people's livelihoods are negatively affected and advised richer countries to support the efforts of developing economies in accessing and manufacturing more vaccines timeously. He also emphasized that until everyone has received a vaccination, everyone will remain at risk and that more variants will emerge.
He added that the decision to prohibit travel was a 'clear and unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting of G20 countries." In October, countries in the G20 met in Rome. They pledged to restart international travel safely and orderly, recognizing the need to support the tourism sector in developing countries and work consistently with the WHO and other organizations to ensure the implementation of this promise. However, the reaction from these same countries came as a complete shock and divergence from the initial discussion in the meeting prior.
In his address, Ramaphosa informed the country of the decision not to impose any further restrictions due to the increased availability of the vaccine and the growing number of vaccinated persons urging citizens to improve the vaccination rate and adhere to basic precautions to curb the spread of the virus. He highlighted how it is imperative to find alternative means of managing the presence of COVID-19 while limiting disruptions that would adversely affect the economy.
Today, none of the countries have lifted their travel bans, and many passengers traveling from the abovementioned countries are experiencing difficulty entering these countries. It is unclear when the countries will likely remove the bans and whether the current situation will create tension amongst the nations involved.