Geneva: The World Health Organization has urged countries across the world not to impose travel bans on southern African countries due to the ongoing concerns over the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.
Asserting that WHO stands with African nations, WHO's regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti called countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions. "@WHO stands with #African nations & calls for borders to remain open. As countries impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new #OmicronVariant, WHO urges countries to follow science & health regulations," she said in a tweet.
In a statement, WHO's regional office for Africa said: "Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods."
"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," it added.
The WHO's statement further stated that South Africa followed International Health Regulations and as soon as its national laboratory identified the Omicron variant on November 24.
"The speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended. WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share life-saving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of COVID-19," it said.
The WHO, on November 27, named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as 'Omicron'.
This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.
Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) has advised the WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron, a statement said.
The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behaviour of the virus.
Meanwhile, the WHO has also raised alarm among countries after a new variant of COVID-19 has been classified in South Africa, the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) said in a statement.
Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands were among those that joined the United Kingdom in restricting flights from southern Africa.