In an address to the nation on Sunday, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa criticized a growing list of countries that have instituted travel bans against South Africa and its neighbors over the emerging Omicron variant of Covid-19.
“We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of southern African countries including our own following the identification of the Omicron variant. This is a clear and completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at that meeting of the G20 countries in Rome last month,” Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa went on to list the countries and territories by name and called on the travel restrictions to be lifted.
“These restrictions are completely unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant. The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to and also to recover from the pandemic,” he said.
Ramaphosa praised the country’s scientists for their early detection of the variant and their work in understanding its potential impact.
He said that the Omicron variant is responsible for most of the infections found in the Gauteng province over the last two weeks and is now appearing in other provinces. He confirmed that the country is seeing a sharp rise in infections.
“If cases continue to climb, we can expect to enter a fourth wave of infections within the next few weeks, if not sooner,” he said.
Some context: South African scientists have long believed a fourth wave was on the way in South Africa during this time, something Ramaphosa reiterated.
“This should not come as a surprise,” he said.
Ramaphosa encouraged South Africans to get vaccinated and said that the government is exploring vaccine mandates to accelerate vaccine uptake. Currently, around 35% of the population is vaccinated in South Africa. He said that the country will remain at coronavirus Level 1, one of the country’s lowest levels.
“The coronavirus will be with us for the long term. We must therefore find ways of managing the pandemic while limiting disruptions to the economy and ensuring continuity,” he said.