While the Southern African Development Community (SADC) chair, President Lazarus Chakwera called on the sixteen member states regional block to speak with one voice, the past few days have shown that the block is far from having a harmonised approach towards Covid-19.
Following the detection of a new Covid-19 variant, known as B.1.1.529 or Omicron by South Africa on 24 November, several countries across the world moved swiftly to impose travel bans on Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Tanzania. In a televised address over the weekend, the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his disappointment over the travel bans which he described as unjustified, and called for the bans to be urgently lifted.
“We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel,” said president Ramaphosa.
However another SADC member state announced the suspension of flights to South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Tanzania due to the new variant. In a press conference, the Angolan minister of state and head of the security house of the president, Francisco Pereira Furtado, announced that the move is a preventive measure aimed at stopping the new variant from seeding. He also said the measure which took effect on Sunday 28 November midnight and will stay in force until January 5, 2022.
Seychelles which is also a SADC member state shut its borders to southern African countries due to new Covid-19 variant. WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, urged countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognised by over 190 nations,” she said.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) brief: “Given mutations that may confer immune escape potential and possibly transmissibility advantage, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high.”