South Africa can’t survive travel bans: health minister

Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, says he has asked his United States counterpart to reverse the travel ban imposed following the detection of the new Omicron variant.

“When US Secretary for Health asked, ‘what can we do?’ It was very simple, I said: ‘just lift the travel ban’,” he said on Wednesday.

“All we’re asking for is for our people to be able to make a living, we are asking for a situation where our traders, our tourism businesses and in many other areas, can survive.”

The appeal comes after the United Kingdom, all 27 European Union states and the US imposed travel bans after South Africa revealed the new “heavily mutated” Coronavirus variant Omicron last week.

Speaking during the World Aids Day commemoration event in Limpopo, the Minister raised concerns that businesses may collapse if the travel restrictions are not reversed soon.

“It means that we’re not going to be able to even buy the vaccines and the treatment we need. People are not going to be able to buy food.”

According to Phaahla, this is the same message he sent to his UK counterpart.

“Simply lift the travel ban. We’re saying to you that our country cannot survive, maybe weeks, maybe days of this travel ban.”

Meanwhile, he expressed his appreciation for the World Health Organisation that has pledged its support to the country.

“Please don’t punish us for doing our civil duty, not only to our people but also to the people of the world,” he appealed.

In addition, the country has received messages of support from other governments, including those that slapped the country with travel bans.

Fourth wave

He reiterated that the country was not caught off guard by the resurgence, which is believed to be sparked by Omicron.

“We said many times, many months ago that as we exited the third wave of COVID-19 that there was going to be the fourth wave. We knew that as a matter of experience that this virus is going to be with us for some time and that there’s going to be variants.”

He also warned the number of infections is still going to go up.

“We’ve been here before. Let us not be fearful and continue to do what we know best. This virus might have too many horns, more than the other ones. But it’s not going to defeat us as long as we work together.”

He also urged people to take the vaccine, especially men and pregnant women.

Read: The lockdown restrictions that do and don’t work in South Africa: expert

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South Africa can’t survive travel bans: health minister