Travel ban: Africa not source of COVID-19, should not be punished for Omicron variant —Akinwumi Adesina

The President of the African Development Bank, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, says Africa is not the source of COVID-19 which was first discovered in Wuhan, China, some two years ago.

The 61-year-old campaigner for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally also said that Africa should not be punished for the Omicron COVID-19 variant and other mutations that occur randomly anywhere in the world.

Adesina stated this in a three-part tweet on Sunday, following the travel ban imposed on Southern African countries by the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union and some Asian countries as part of an emergency response to the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19, first detected in South Africa.

The former Nigerian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development wrote, “Africa should not be labelled and penalized for COVID-19 variants and mutations that occur randomly elsewhere in the world. Africa is not the source of COVID-19.

“There must be global justice, equity & fairness in access to vaccines. Global vaccine supply system has underserved Africa. Protecting one’s home alone in the midst of a forest fire does not work. Put out the forest fire.

“Africa must accelerate the manufacturing of its own vaccines & set up its own ‘healthcare security defence system’. Africa must no longer outsource health security of its 1.8 billion people to the benevolence of others.”

Omicron: Fifth COVID-19 variant

The World Health Organisation had on Friday declared the new COVID-19 strain first discovered in South Africa to be a variant of concern and renamed it Omicron.

The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of COVID-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

The variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Wednesday. The first known confirmed Omicron infection was from a specimen collected on November 9. In recent weeks, infections in South Africa have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection.

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said, pointing to worrying characteristics.

Apart from South Africa, Omicron has been detected in Israel in a person coming from Malawi; Botswana; Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Hong Kong, amongst others.

The US, UK, EU, and some countries in Asia have since imposed flight ban on Southern African countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, even as the South African government said it is being “punished” and unfairly treated for sounding the alarm.

The decision by many countries around the world to ban flights from Southern Africa following the discovery of the variant, named Omicron, “is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,” the Southern African foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.

FG monitoring development

Though the Omicron COVID-19 variant has not been recorded in Nigeria, virologists have called on the Federal Government to be swift and impose a flight ban on South Africa, to forestall the incursion of the lethal variant into the country with over 200 million people but the government has said that it is still observing the situation.

Nigeria has recorded about four COVID-19 strains with over 213,000 cases and about 3,000 associated fatalities since the index case of the lethal virus in the country last year February — an Italian travelling from Milan, Italy to Lagos through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.

In June 2021, the Federal Government added travellers from South Africa to the list of countries banned from flying into Nigeria due to the Delta COVID-19 variant which spread fast in the country.

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