Travel ban storm in a tea cup, says South African Medical Association chairwoman

·3 min read

Watch: South Africa angered by travel restrictions due to new variant

The chairwoman of the South African Medical Association has described the travel restrictions imposed on the country as “hasty” and the reaction from other countries as “a storm in a teacup”.

Dr Angelique Coetzee said it was too early to tell what impact the B.1.1.529 variant would have.

She told BBC News: “We think it is a premature decision that has been taken, I think it is a hasty decision.

“I would understand if it was two weeks later and we know much more about this viral infection that is going around, or this mutation, but for now, it is like a storm in a teacup.

“We have only become aware of this viral mutation, or the new strain we are seeing, last week.”

Coronavirus testing
People who have flown in from South Africa over the last few days are being tested (Jacob King/PA)

She added: “From us as medical practitioners, we picked up, last week, the different clinical pictures, we looked at the advisory committees and so far what we have seen is very mild cases. [I’m] not sure why we are all up in arms.

“We know there are a lot of mutations but no-one can tell us at this stage if it means something, or if it is just going to fade away. We just don’t know.”

On Thursday the UK Government added South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to the UK’s travel red list.

Passengers arriving in the UK from these countries from 4am on Sunday will be required to book and pay for a Government-approved hotel quarantine for 10 days.

Other countries including Germany, Italy, France, Israel, Japan and Singapore have also restricted travel, while the European Commission has recommended EU countries introduce an “emergency brake” on travel from affected countries.

Cases of the new variant have been found in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.

South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor echoed Dr Coetzee’s comments, saying the UK’s decision to ban flights “seems to have been rushed”.

She said: “Whilst South Africa respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organisation is yet to advise on the next steps.”

According to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, 2,465 new cases were reported on Thursday, with the province of Gauteng having the highest number of cases at 1,950.

Just over 38,000 tests were conducted in the previous 24 hours.

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