Nov 29, 2021 - Health

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

The WHO's Dr. Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti attends The Access Challenge UHC Conference 2018 at Westin Times Square on September 24, 2018 in New York City.

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday not to impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since been identified in several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new strain.

What they're saying: "Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," the WHO said.

  • "If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations."
  • Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's regional director for Africa, said in a statement that the "speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended."
  • "With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity," Moeti added. "COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions."
  • Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

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