The government says it has noted the announcements by several countries to institute temporary travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries in the region.
This follows the detection of the new Omicron variant.
“While we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and sharing of expertise.
“Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and business,” said International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Naledi Pandor, in a statement.
South Africa has already started engaging countries that have imposed travel bans with the view to persuade them to reconsider.
In the statement, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) said South Africa aligns itself with the World Health Organisation’s position on the latest travel bans.
The World Health Organisation has pleaded with world leaders not to engage in “knee-jerk reactions and has cautioned against the imposition of travel restrictions”.
WHO Head of Emergencies, Dr Michael Ryan, has stressed the importance of waiting to see what the data will show.
“We’ve seen in the past, the minute there’s any kind of mention of any kind of variation and everyone is closing borders and restricting travel. It’s really important that we remain open, and stay focused,” Dr Ryan said.
The department said that the government had noted that new variants have been detected in other countries. “Each of those cases have had no recent links with Southern Africa. It’s worth noting that the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in Southern Africa,” said Dirco.
The department said this latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” said the department, adding that the global community needs collaboration and partnerships in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A combination of South Africa’s capacity to test and its ramped-up vaccination programme, backed up by world-class scientific community, should give South Africa’s global partners the comfort that the country is doing as well as they are in managing the pandemic.
South Africa follows and enforces globally recognised Covid-19 health protocols on travel. No infected individuals are permitted to leave the country.
Europe on high alert
European officials are on alert for confirmation that the omicron Covid strain is present in travelers who returned from southern Africa just before widespread travel bans kicked in with a handful of countries investigating suspected cases of the new variant.
In the Netherlands, 61 people — or about one in 10 — tested positive for Covid-19 after flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Friday, the local health authority GGD Kennemerland reported. Dutch authorities will research whether the cases are from the new strain.
The travelers with positive readings must enter hotel quarantine in the Netherlands for as long as a week. Those who tested negative were free to return home, or to catch connecting flights.
Belgium’s health minister on Friday confirmed one case of the new variant in an unvaccinated person who’d returned from abroad. In the Czech Republic, a traveler on a flight from Namibia is suspected to have arrived infected with the new variant, CTK news service reported.,
In Germany, it’s “very likely” the new coronavirus strain was brought in by a traveler arriving in Frankfurt from South Africa, a state official said Saturday. A person arrived Friday night who showed several symptoms typical of the new variant, Kai Klose, minister of social affairs in the German state of Hesse, said Saturday on Twitter, without providing more detail.
While the virus sample hasn’t been sequenced, there’s a “high level of suspicion” that the person has the new strain, Klose said. The traveler has been isolated at home.