UN Chief Criticizes Africa Travel Restrictions Over Omicron COVID-19 Variant

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized the travel restrictions on southern African countries due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant as “unfair and punitive.”

“With a virus that is truly borderless, travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive — they are ineffective,” Guterres said at a press conference with African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat at the UN headquarters in New York on Dec. 1.

Guterres said African countries should not be “collectively punished for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world.”

Guterres called on all governments to instead consider repeated testing for travelers, along with “other appropriate and truly effective measures.”

“This is the only way to reduce the risk of transmission while allowing for travel and economic engagement,” Guterres said.

Mahamat condemned the travel restrictions as having “no basis in science nor common sense.”

“To condemn a country because its scientists alerted the world of the prevalence of a new variant is immoral. In the face of a common enemy, the life of a human being should be the same,” Mahamat said.

Mahamat added that the new variant was already circulating in Europe before scientists in South Africa identified it.

“We are doing all we can to get the countries to lift this travel ban,” Mahamat further said.

Guterres’ and Mahamat’s remarks came hours after World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticized the travel restrictions.

“Blanket travels bans will not prevent the international spread of Omicron, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Tedros said.

Countries that implemented travel restrictions on southern African countries include the United States, Canada, Israel, and some European countries.

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