Thursday, 20 January, 2022
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AU calls in its members to lift travel bans on SA and its neighbours

The African Union has called on member states to urgently rescind travel bans imposed on South Africa and its neighbours, after the detection of the Omicron variant, reports MedicalBrief.

African countries with restrictions on travellers from SA include Angola, Seychelles, Rwanda, Morocco, Mauritius, and Egypt.

“Current evidence, which underscores global spread and community transmission of the Omicron variant, does not support selective travel bans imposed on Southern African countries,” the AU said in a statement.

The statement reads in full:

The African Union strongly commends the effective genomic surveillance systems in South Africa and Botswana that have led to early detection of the Omicron variant on the continent, and applauds scientists and public health authorities in both member states for timely and transparent data sharing to alert the international community in alignment with International Health Regulations (2005).

The African Union acknowledges that more time and investigations are needed to adequately assess the epidemiological and clinical characteristics of the Omicron variant.  Although COVID-19 case numbers and test positivity rates have sharply increased in the Gauteng province since Omicron was first reported, early clinical data from infected cases indicate that this has not translated into significant increase in severe COVID-19 cases or in-hospitals deaths until now[3].  This could however be due to the younger age profile of cases and/or the time lag between increase in COVID-19 case numbers and increase in COVID-19 deaths.

The African Union stresses that PHSM interventions to mitigate the risk of infections and control the spread of COVID-19 should be targeted to limit impact on lives and livelihoods, and informed by science and evidence.  Current evidence, which underscores global spread and community transmission of the Omicron variant, does not support selective travel bans imposed on Southern African countries.

These travel and entry bans, which limit the free movement of people and goods, have an immediate and significant negative impact in the region as they lead to:

  • Adverse impact on the economy which will negatively affect the lives and livelihoods of populations concerned
  • Limited capacity to access essential medical supplies needed to respond to the ongoing upsurge of cases in South Africa.
  • Limited capacity for Southern African researchers and scientists to access the reagents needed to monitor spread of the Omicron variant and to investigate and characterize its impact on transmissibility, disease severity and possible evasion from vaccines.

The African Union further emphasizes that penalizing Member States for ensuring timely and transparent data dissemination in accordance with international health regulations acts as a disincentive for information sharing in the future, potentially posing a threat to health security on the continent and globally.

Accordingly, the African Union calls for the urgent rescinding of selective travel bans imposed on African Union members states

Equitable access to vaccines is key to immunize populations, control transmission of the virus and prevent the emergence of new variants.  International efforts should accordingly focus on increasing vaccination coverage on the continent.

 

African Union statement on lifting of travel bans (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

State of play with Omicron – The discovery, the spread, the politics, and the science

 

Omicron: Some simple steps to deal with the new variant

 

Pandemic confounded expectations of preparedness and resilience in Africa

 

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