South Africa said it was being punished for its advanced ability to detect new COVID-19 variants early.
First announced on Wednesday, by a team of scientists in South Africa, the new variant threatens to harm tourism and other sectors of the economy.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday, named the variant Omicron and designated it as a ‘variant of concern’- its most serious level, saying preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection.
South Africa has some of the world’s top epidemiologists and scientists, who have managed to detect emerging coronavirus variants and their mutations early on in their life cycle.
The Omicron variant has since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.
Travel bans and restrictions have been imposed by the U.S., Japan, Thailand, Canada, Sri Lanka amongst other countries because of the new Omicron variant that could possibly evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.
“This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker,” the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said in a statement.
The foreign ministry noted that while the new variant was also detected in other countries, the global reaction to those countries have been “starkly different” to cases in southern Africa.
“Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and business,” South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in the statement.
The government was engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider, it added.
The WHO on Friday, cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the variant, saying they should take a “risk-based and scientific approach”.