South Africa’s health ministry on Friday attacked Europe’s rush to impose travel bans to slow the spread of a new Covid variant as “draconian,” unscientific and contrary to WHO advice.
“We believe that some of the reactions have been unjustified,” Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a news conference, accusing some leaders whom he did not name of seeking a “scapegoat.”
The B.1.1.529 strain has been blamed for a surge in fresh cases in South Africa, but has already cropped up in Hong Kong, Belgium and Botswana.
Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands among others on Friday joined Britain in suspending flights from the region.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-nation European Union, also proposed a complete suspension of flights to and from southern Africa until there was a “clear understanding about the danger” that it said was posed by the new variant.
However, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday urged against travel curbs at this stage.
The agency cautioned that it could take several weeks to find out whether the newly-discovered mutations made the virus more virulent or transmissible.
Phaala said that bans were “a wrong approach — it’s misdirected and goes against the norms and advice by the WHO.”
“We feel some of the leadership of countries are finding scapegoats to deal with what is a worldwide problem,” he said.
Drawing comparisons of daily infections between South Africa and some European countries, the minister said the move “really doesn’t look scientific.”
While he was concerned at the rise of daily infections from around 300 two weeks ago, to nearly 3,000 on Friday, it was ironic that “some of the countries… now reacting in this draconian manner” had infection rates of upwards of 50,000 per day.
“That kind of reaction is knee-jerk and panic,” he said.
Such responses could prompt countries to shy away from reporting new findings, he warned.
“It’s a very counter-productive reaction because what it says is if you have the capability to do genomic sequencing and have high level of efficiency, … those capabilities must be driven underground,” said the minister.
People will “feel that it is a risk to disclose” their findings, he argued.
The restrictions have sent shockwaves through South Africa’s tourist industry, which has been looking to visitors from the wealthier northern hemisphere to bring in desperately-needed income.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)