Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor.
  • The international community is “punishing” South Africa, Dirco has said.
  • This comes amid a slew of travel restrictions following the identification of the Omicron variant.
  • The WHO has urged countries to not impose travel restrictions in a knee-jerk reaction.

South Africa is being “punished” for identifying the new Omicron Covid-19 variant, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) has said in a statement.

The department said South Africa should be applauded for identifying the new variant, instead of being shut out by the international community.

Several countries and regions instituted travel restrictions and cancelled flights since the announcement of the new Omicron variant, including the UK, US and EU.

South African scientists announced the new variant on Thursday, after it was traced during genome sequencing.

“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.

“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.”

According to the statement, the government was aligning itself with a call by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to international leaders, imploring them not to “engage in knee-jerk reactions” and impose travel restrictions.

WHO Head of Emergencies Michael Ryan stressed the importance of waiting for more data on the Omicron variant.

“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,” Ryan said.

Dirco said South Africa’s capacity to test and its ramped-up vaccination programme, backed up by a world class scientific community, should give its global partners the comfort that the government was doing “as well as they are in managing the pandemic”.

Dirco Minister Naledi Pandor, said: “Whilst 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.”