Malawi blasts 'Afrophobic' virus travel bans

Dozens of countries have barred flights from southern Africa in a bid to keep the variant, named Omicron, off their shores.

30 November 2021 | Economics

We are all concerned about the new Covid variant and owe South Africa's scientists our thanks for identifying it before anyone else did. Lazarus Chakwera, President: Malawi

Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera on Sunday accused Western countries of "Afrophobia" for shutting their borders to his and other neighbouring nations after South Africa flagged a new coronavirus variant last week.

Dozens of countries have barred flights from southern Africa in a bid to keep the variant, named Omicron, off their shores.

Chakwera is currently chairing the 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) which has seen most of its members blacklisted, sparking outrage.

"We are all concerned about the new Covid variant and owe South Africa's scientists our thanks for identifying it before anyone else did," Chakwera posted on his Facebook page.

"But the unilateral travel bans now imposed on SADC countries by the United Kingdom (UK), European Union (EU), United States (US), Australia, and others are uncalled for. Covid-19 measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia," he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron a variant of concern and is assessing its impact. Omicron is thought to be behind rising infections in South Africa, the continent's worst-hit country.

Several governments deem the travel bans rushed and unjust, and South Africa said it felt "punished" for sounding the alarm. The WHO has called for borders to remain open.

Botswana

"We must work in solidarity," Botswana's International Affairs Minister Lemogang Kwape said at a Sunday press briefing in the capital Gaborone.

"We are not going to be geo-politicising this virus," he added, when asked to disclose the provenance of Botswana's first detected Omicron cases, dating to November 7. Botswana has since picked up 19 cases of Omicron.

Botswana's health minister Edwin Dikoloti said on Sunday the country had detected 15 more cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, adding to the four confirmed cases it declared on Friday.

The minister applauded its scientists for detecting the new variant in the country early, but stressed it did not emerge in Botswana as the four cases were found in people who travelled to the country on a diplomatic mission.

He declined to comment on the nationalities of the four people saying the country "would not want to add to the seeming trend where the variant is stigmatised".

Botswana was early among what are now 11 countries so far reporting cases of the variant, which was identified last week by South Africa's National Institute of Communicable Diseases and later designated "of concern" by the World Health Organization. -Nampa/AFP/Reuters

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