Antony Blinken Calls Omicron Discovery, South Africa’s Transparency “Model for the World”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised South Africa’s efforts to quickly identify and alert the world to the new Omicron variant.

In a call on Saturday with South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, Blinken said he appreciated the South African government’s transparency in disseminating information about the new variant of COVID.

“Secretary Blinken especially commended the South African scientists for the rapid identification of the Omicron variant and the South African government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world,” said the State Department in a statement.

The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa and has been considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a strain of “concern”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised South Africa’s efforts to quickly identify and alert the world to the new Omicron variant. Above, a member of the medical staff prepares a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty) Covid-19 vaccine, in the Lyon Gerland vaccination center on November 27.
Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP via Getty Images

On Saturday, more than a dozen countries announced temporary travel restrictions on South Africa and seven other countries in the region after some cases were reported in several parts of the world.

South Africa’s foreign ministry on Saturday denounced the move, criticizing their swift decisions to ban travel instead of taking a wait-and-see approach.

The WHO has encouraged “world leaders not to engage in knee-jerk reactions and warned against imposing travel restrictions,” the foreign ministry said.

“This latest round of travel bans amounts to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and ability to detect new variants faster. Scientific excellence should be applauded, not punished,” the ministry statement said. . “The global community needs collaboration and partnerships in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. “

South Africa’s COVID protocols, including “stepped up” vaccinations and preventing COVID patients from leaving the country, are expected to give other countries “comfort” that the country is handling the pandemic, the ministry added.

In addition, the South African Foreign Minister highlighted the impact of travel restrictions on the economy.

“We must remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and the sharing of expertise. Our immediate concern is the damage these restrictions are causing to families, to the travel and tourism industries and to businesses,” Pandor said in the statement.

Likewise, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla on Friday condemned the travel restrictions, calling them a “draconian reaction”, according to The Guardian.

“The reaction of countries to impose travel bans is totally against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization,” said the Minister of Health.

Travel bans have also been scrutinized by other officials in South Africa, who have argued that the country should be supported rather than excluded.

“The world must support South Africa and Africa and not discriminate or isolate them! By protecting and supporting them, we will protect the world! A plea for billionaires and financial institutions” , Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation, wrote in a statement shared on Twitter.

South African Medical Association president Angelique Coetzee echoed Oliveira’s comments, telling the BBC on Friday that the travel restrictions were “premature”.

Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner also criticized the decision after President Joe Biden announced travel restrictions that will take effect on Monday.

“However, it is counterproductive in the short and long term to impose severe travel restrictions on affected countries; it hurts current containment efforts, discourages future sharing,” he said in a shared statement. on Twitter.

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