South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting the Omicron COVID-19 variant, not penalized, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom.
The WHO chief made the call on Thursday as part of his opening remarks at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly.
The call follows numerous travel bans issued against Southern African countries following the detection of the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa and Botswana.
“Indeed, Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics: our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores,” Tedros said.
The WHO chief’s remarks were an echo of concerns by the South African foreign ministry, which on Saturday strongly criticized the travel bans.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said.
Tedros said the global health body did not yet have complete information on the new variant, but scientists are working to answer all questions pertaining it.
“We don’t yet know whether Omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of reinfections, or more risk of evading vaccines. Scientists at WHO and around the world are working urgently to answer these questions,” he said.
Tedros also used the opportunity to rally the world to unite in the fight against COVID-19, noting that no country was safe until all are safe.
“Nations coming together to find common ground is the only way to make sustainable progress against common threats,” he said.