South Africa health minister calls travel bans on country amid Omicron variant fears 'unjustified': report

A young woman reacts as she receives a Pfizer jab against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. A new COVID-19 variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla announced Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021.
  • South Africa Health Minister said the travel bans placed on southern Africa are "unjustified," CNBC reported.

  • " We must work together, not punish each other," Joe Phaahla said Friday.

  • His comments come amid the detection of a new coronavirus variant, labeled "Omicron" by health officials.

South Africa's Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the move to place travel restrictions on the country amid fears over the new COVID-19 variant is "unjustified" at a media briefing on Friday, CNBC reported.

His comments respond to multiple countries, including across the US, Europe, and Asia after banning travel from southern Africa. The new variant, named Omicron, was first detected in South Africa and spread to other countries — Israel, Botswana, and Belgium, as Insider reported.

Phaahla criticized other countries for "wanting to put blame" on South Africa, calling their imposed travel bans "kind of knee-jerk reaction," CNBC reported. He emphasized that it goes against the norms and standards of the World Health Organization, according to the report.

"Covid-19 is a global health emergency. We must work together, not punish each other," Phaahla said. "Witch hunts don't benefit anyone. South Africa wants to be an honest player in the world, to share health info not just of benefit to South Africans and citizens of the world."

According to CNBC, Phaahla said that vaccines are still effective in preventing severe illness.

On Friday, the WHO labeled Omicron a "variant of concern" which is a term used for more transmissible coronavirus strains. Health officials in the UK said that two cases of the Omicron variant had been found "and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa" on Saturday.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the variant has yet to be detected in the US. Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said that it's only a matter of time.

"We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility, and you're already having travel-related cases that they've noted in Israel and Belgium and other places, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over," Fauci said on Saturday.

He continued: "The issue of blocking travel from a given country is to just give us time to assess it better. That's the reason for doing that, not any reason to panic, but we want to give us some time to really fill in the blanks of what we don't know right now," the outlet reported.

Read the original article on Business Insider