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Global Reaction to Variant Angers South Africa

Government and travel industry feel punished for transparency and scientists' quick work
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 26, 2021 5:25 PM CST
South Africa Accuses Nations of Overreacting to New Variant
A departures screen at London's Heathrow Airport tells travelers Friday that a flight to Johannesburg has been scrapped.   (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

(Newser) – South Africa's government and travel industry have responded angrily to travel restrictions imposed by the US, Britain and other nations over the latest coronavirus variant. Health Minister Joe Phaahla, at a press conference Friday, said the travel bans "are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization. The same countries that are enacting this kind of knee-jerk, draconian reaction are battling their own waves." Government officials learned of the first temporary travel restrictions just hours after being briefed on the Omicron variant by scientists, the Guardian reports.

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South Africa's tourism minister called the restrictions devastating and suggested they're unfair, per the New York Times. "Perhaps our scientists’ ability to trace some of these variants has been our biggest weakness," Lindiwe Sisulu said. "We're finding ourselves punished for the work that we do." A World Health Organization official in Africa worried about the toll on future transparency. "This will just discourage different countries for sharing information which might be very important for global public health," Thierno Balde said.

The travel industry had been counting on a holiday jump in business after the long pandemic downturn. "It's just absolutely ridiculous," said a sales manager at a game reserve, adding that employees there wear masks and otherwise follow COVID-19 protocols. "South Africa's very safe to be in at the moment," he said. The government on Friday urged everyone over age 12 to get vaccinated. President Cyril Ramaphosa will consider restoring lockdown restrictions Sunday when South Africa's coronavirus command council meets. (Read more COVID variants stories.)

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