Following the discovery of the "Omicron" variant of Covid-19 in small numbers across South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana, the South African government has raised objections to the travel ban issued by Britain and a host of other countries which have temporarily banned flights to and from the country.
Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a media briefing that South Africa was acting with transparency and travel bans were against the norms and standards of the World Health Organization (WHO), which held an emergency meeting over the variant. The WHO designated omicron as "of concern," its most serious level, following a meeting of its technical advisory group.
"Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries," South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held emergency talks on Friday regarding the travel ban and ways to open international travel reported the Reuters agency.
Britain has already banned South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia. European Union states also agreed to suspend travel to southern Africa.
Scientists have objected to the travel ban as both unviable and unscientific and have re-emphasised the need to vaccinate the population of countries. Vaccination would protect against severe symptomatic Covid-19 and would also serve the purpose of slowing down the virus' mutation. The omicron variant has the most mutations of any COVID variant discovered to date.
South Africa has already had 89,000 deaths due to Covid-19, and has been the worst affected of most African countries as vaccine hesitancy and apathy have accelerated the outbreak of coronavirus.