Omicron variant: Travel restrictions unfair, Ghana, South Africa register opposition

BY: Donald Ato Dapatem
President Akufo-Addo (right) and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa addressing the press at the Jubilee House. Picture: SAMUEL TEI ADANO
President Akufo-Addo (right) and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa addressing the press at the Jubilee House. Picture: SAMUEL TEI ADANO

Ghana and South Africa have expressed strong reservations about what they describe as “arbitrary and discriminatory travel restrictions” being used as instruments of immigration control on some African countries.

They said because South African scientists had been able to successfully sequence and report the presence of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19, they were being punished together with other African countries for their transparency and honesty.

While President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa described the move as “travel apartheid and killing economies in the region”, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo called it “unfair, especially when the variant was detected much earlier in The Netherlands”.

Media briefing

The two leaders condemned the travel restrictions when they addressed the media at a joint press conference after the inauguration the Ghana-South Africa Bi-national Trade Commission at the Jubilee House in Accra last Saturday as part of the three-day State Visit to Ghana by President Ramaphosa.

The two countries held bilateral talks that centred on trade, investment, politics, security, mining and others sectors.

Four ministers each from either country also signed four agreements in the areas of agriculture, immigration, transport and gender geared towards consolidating the relations between the two countries.

Agreements on defence and visa waiver will be signed later in a virtual ceremony.

Guard of Honour

Before the meeting, a contingent of over 100 officers and men of the Ghana Armed Forces, in their ceremonial attire and with the military band in attendance, had mounted a Guard of Honour at the Forecourt of the Jubilee House for the visiting President.

Mr Ramaphosa was treated to the tunes of the National anthems of the two countries, while he mounted the dais in front of the neatly dressed soldiers.

Immediately after the national salute, a detachment of soldiers within the Jubilee House fired a 21-gun salute in honour of President Ramaphosa.

He was then led by the Director of State Protocol, Mr Samuel Kumah to the foyer of the Presidency, where he was received by President Akufo-Addo.

After the introduction of ministers of state on both sides, the two Presidents entered the Ceremonial Room for a tete-a-tete.

Later, the Presidents and their ministers left for Juaben in the Ashanti Region to attend the Golden Jubilee celebration of the enstoolment of the Juabenhene and Chairman of the Council of State, Nana Otuo Siriboe II, and returned later in the day for the inauguration of the Bi-national Commission.

Bilateral meeting

In his opening remarks during the bilateral meeting, President Akufo-Addo noted that Ghana had remained very vocal against the use of travel ban as a form of immigration control by some countries against African nations.

He indicated that the measures that had been put in place to ensure the safety of delegations and populations were working, and that there was no need for people to get hysterical about it.

“Initially, we were told that the streets of our continent were going to be littered with the bodies of Africans, but in the way that God works, these things never happened,” he said.

Expatiating on this further during the press conference, the President noted that the isolation of African countries would not solve the COVID-19 problem, and that the vaccination of almost everybody was the solution.

“Those who have these vaccines in huge supplies and are hoarding them should lift their heads and look at the world as it is and send the vaccines to those parts of the world where they are needed,” he said.

He said Ghana was doing its best in very difficult circumstances and had vaccinated about six million of the population, which represented 20 per cent, a percentage that needed to be raised to about 60 to get to herd immunity.

President Akufo-Addo added that the vaccination of people across the world was a major health, social and political issue.

He said there was every indication that it was not going to be possible for a handful of people “in the so-called North to be vaccinated while the rest of us languished without vaccines”, explaining that whatever be the case, if the virus stayed here, it would find its way up there and so it was in everybody’s interest that we vaccinated everybody.

Slap

For his part, President Ramaphosa said the move was not just a slap in the face of South Africa but also the “African excellence in scientific endeavour”.

That was because it was African scientists who detected the variant and alerted the world, but instead of the world applauding the scientific excellence of an African country, it had decided to do otherwise, he said.

“It was African scientific expertise, particularly genomic sequencing, that brought the Omicron to the world’s attention, a move that must be applauded,” he added.

President Ramaphosa lamented that the travel restrictions were already causing substantial damage to the economies of the countries in Southern Africa, especially those which relied on tourism the most.

Apartheid

He referred to a joint meeting between the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) last Wednesday, during which the UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres, described the ban as travel apartheid, adding: “And I could not agree with him more because this is an imposition of an apartheid measure against countries in Southern Africa.”

President Ramaphosa said Africans were making strenuous efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and open their economies for businesses to drive the recovery effort.

Background

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday said the COVID-19 Omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries, up from 23 three days ago, with early data suggesting the strain is more contagious than delta.

Since South Africa confirmed the genome sequencing of the new variant barely two weeks ago, it has been detected in many more countries.

They include Asian nations Sri Lanka, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

Soon after the WHO declared Omicron as a ‘Variant of Concern’, several countries imposed travel bans against South Africa and other Southern African countries, claiming all of some of them travelled from South Africa and Namibia.

Israel, after one case of the new “potentially dangerous” strain was found in a traveler returning from Malawi, it banned all foreigners traveling to Israel, becoming the first country to take such a step.

Other countries that have imposed the travel bans are the United Kingdom, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Japan and recently, the United States.