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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa criticized Western countries for the travel bans enacted against the country and neighboring nations due to the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron.
The highly mutated variant, which emerged first in South Africa earlier this month, continues to spread worldwide, as fresh new cases have been recently identified in the UK, Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.
Many African countries have become angered by recent blacklists imposed in an attempt to prevent the new COVID-19 variant from reaching distant lands.
Ramaphosa stated his "deep disappointment" by the action, urging countries to "immediately and urgently" reverse the restrictions, insisting that the decision was "not informed by science."
"We call upon all those countries that have imposed travel bans on our country and our southern African sister countries to immediately and urgently reverse their decisions," said the South African leader Sunday in his first address to the nation following the detection of a new variant.
The World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron a “variant of concern” that it says is potentially more contagious than previous variants, and the global health body warned against countries imposing travel curbs, explaining they should look to a "risk-based and scientific approach."
Ramaphosa similarly slammed the G20 countries for abandoning commitments made at a recent summit in Rome to support the recovery of tourism sector in developing countries.
"This is a clear and completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting of the G20 countries in Rome last month," the president said.
"Instead of prohibiting travel, the rich countries of the world need to support the efforts of developing economies to access and to manufacture enough vaccine doses for their people without delay,” he emphasized, calling the restrictions “unjustified."
He further called on rich countries to stop fueling vaccine inequality, saying that vaccines are the "most powerful tool" to prevent Omicron's transmission.
South African officials will not be considering economic lockdown restrictions for the time being, given that vaccines are available for those aged 12 and above.
Similarly, the South African cabinet has decided that the country will remain at low risk alert level, while stating it is considering "measures that make vaccination a condition for access to workplaces, public events, public transport and public establishments."
The WHO has warned against hasty travel bans, saying that it could take "days to several weeks" to understand whether the strain is more dangerous than the other variants.
“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” said WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti.
The African continent's most industrialized country, South Africa, is struggling with slow economic growth and more than 34 percent unemployment rate.
The travel curbs will likely deal another major blow to the country's tourism industry, which had set high hopes on the upcoming southern hemisphere summer after a deadly fourth wave globally had slightly subsided.
South Africa is Africa's worst hit nation by the coronavirus pandemic, registering around 2.9 million cases and 89,797 deaths reported to date.
Analysts believe Omicron is also fueling a rise in infections, as 1,600 new cases have been recorded on average in the past seven days, compared to 500 just last week.