Cyril Ramaphosa slams travel bans against SA over Omicron Covid-19 variant
Unjustified, discriminatory and not backed up by science. That is how President Cyril Ramaphosa responded to travel bans against Southern African countries after the emergence of the Omicron variant.
Countries that have imposed travel restrictions on SA and some Southern African countries include the UK, US, EU members, Canada, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Seychelles, Brazil and Guatemala.
“The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic,” Ramaphosa said on Sunday.
He said the ban was a deviation from a commitment that many of the countries made at the meeting of G20 countries in Rome last month.
The meeting, according to Ramaphosa, was to restart international travel in a safe and orderly manner, consistent with the work of relevant international organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the International Maritime Organisation and the OECD.
“The G20 Rome Declaration noted the plight of the tourism sector in developing countries, and made a commitment to support a 'rapid, resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery of the tourism sector',” he added.
Ramaphosa said the prohibition of travel was not informed by science, nor would it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant, emphasising that it was likely to cause further damage to economies of affected countries and “undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic”.
“We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our Southern African sister countries to urgently reverse their decisions and lift the ban they have imposed before any further damage is done to our economies and to the livelihoods of our people. There is no scientific justification for keeping these restrictions in place,” said the president.
SA was spared of tougher lockdown regulations despite rising Covid-19 infections and concerns over the Omicron variant — in the hope that more people will vaccinate against the virus.
Ramaphosa said the identification of Omicron coincides with a sudden rise in Covid-19 infections centred mostly in Gauteng, and the number of cases is also rising in other provinces.
“We have seen an average of 1,600 new cases in the last seven days, compared to just 500 new daily cases in the previous week, and 275 new daily cases the week before that. This is an extremely sharp rise in infections in a short space of time.”
The president added that if cases continued to climb, SA could expect to enter a fourth wave of infections within the next few weeks, if not sooner.
While little is still known about the Omicron variant, including its behaviour going forward, Ramaphosa said the country already has the tools needed for protection against it.
“We know enough about the variant to know what we need to do to reduce transmission and to protect ourselves against severe disease and death. The first, the most powerful tool we have is vaccination.
“Since the first Covid-19 vaccines became available late last year, we have seen how vaccines have dramatically reduced severe illness, hospitalisation and death in SA and across the world. Vaccines do work, vaccines are saving lives,” he said.
Currently, 41% of the adult population have received at least one vaccine dose, and 35.6% of adult South Africans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 while 57% of people 60 years old and above are fully vaccinated, and 53% of people aged between 50 and 60 are fully vaccinated.
While the president said these numbers were welcome progress, he stressed that it was not enough to enable SA to reduce infections, prevent illness and death and restore the economy.
Ramaphosa made an impassioned plea to all South Africans to vaccinate.
“Vaccination is by far the most important way to protect yourself and those around you against the Omicron variant, to reduce the impact of the fourth wave and to help restore the social freedoms we all yearn for.
“Vaccination against Covid-19 is free. Tonight, I would like to call on every person who has not been vaccinated to go to their nearest vaccination station without delay,” he concluded.
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