European Union countries’ travel bans on African countries over the Omicron variant is discriminatory and will negatively affect the African aviation sector, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) has said.
AFRAA Secretary General Abdérahmane Berthé said the move by some Western countries amount to stigmatisation of Africa, especially South Africa which is among countries to detect the virus in its land.
“Why target Africa when the virus is reported in other regions as well? Any attempts to stigmatise Africa through travel bans will not work. We should not confuse politics with science,” said Mr Berthé.
The secretary general urges all countries that have issued unilateral travel restrictions to revoke them and instead seek collaborative measures that will address the Covid challenge holistically.
“The Omicron variant is now detected in several regions of the world, yet the travel bans seem to be targeted at Africa. This is an affront to the global efforts to find an enduring solution. We will be better off confronting the virus if we work together for solutions and avoid discrimination,” said Mr Berthé.
AFRAA urged African governments to speak out at any attempt to smear the continent with propaganda and medical mischief. Covid-19 can only be defeated when countries work together, not when they are divided, according to AFRAA.
“Besides vaccination, there are tried and tested protocols that have proven effective in curbing the spread of Covid-19. These must continue to apply while we work together towards neutralising or eliminating the virus,” said Mr Berthé.
Restrictions could be counterproductive
The association urged EU countries to commend work done by South African scientists in unearthing and transparently announcing to the world the discovery of the Omicron strain of SARS CoV-2.
Instead of attracting applause, the announcement was met with harsh and uncoordinated travel restrictions, he added.
“Unfortunately, in nearly two years since Covid-19 was first discovered, it appears we have not learned useful lessons that could lead to finding a permanent solution to the pandemic. Restricting travel has never been the solution to curtailing the spread of Covid-19 but has adversely impacted economies and unleashed untold hardship,” said Mr Berthé.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron a variant of concern because it has numerous mutations in its spike protein, some of which could make it more infectious or improve its ability to evade antibodies.
Some countries have imposed travel bans due to the Omicron variant.
For instance, the United States is barring non-US citizens who have been in selected countries, while Australia requires 14 days of quarantine for its own citizens and residents who have visited selected countries in the past two weeks.
Researchers say border restrictions might deter nations from alerting the world to future variants. They will also slow down urgent research, because few planes transporting laboratory supplies needed for sequencing are now arriving in South Africa.
“The travel ban will paradoxically affect the speed at which scientists are able to investigate,” says Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.