Professor Xavier Gómez-Olivé denounces travel bans on South Africa in the wake of Omicron variant announcement

The emergence of the Omicron variant of SARS-COV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) has caused global alarm. This variant was sequenced by South African scientists and made public on 24 November 2021. On receiving this news, the United Kingdom promptly banned travel to South Africa as well as 6 other southern African countries, and other countries quickly followed suit. This reaction was not supported by any scientific recommendations and has been damaging for South Africa, its economy, and its people.

The Spanish Scientists in South Africa (ACE) mobilised to release a press statement commending South Africa’s scientists and government and denouncing the travel bans as unjustified. ACE has called for solidarity with the country and strongly urges that actions be guided by correct information. Professor Xavier Gómez-Olivé, an epidemiologist and at the MRC/Wits-Agincourt Research Unit, has advanced this effort by participating in a series of interviews with international media in Catalonia, Spain, and Colombia in which he answered questions and gave correct updates on Covid-19 in South Africa.

In these interviews, Professor Gómez-Olivé points out that while the new variant was sequenced by South African scientists the origins have not been determined. He’s said that travel bans will not succeed at controlling Omicron as this variant has also been detected in many other countries. He cautioned that this example of stigmatisation may discourage governments from disclosing information when future variants are discovered.

Professor Gómez-Olivé shared that South Africa has vaccines and 35% of the population is fully vaccinated – the aim is for 75% coverage. But, with that target not yet met, mask-adherence remains mandatory along with a host of other non-pharmaceutical interventions and Covid-19 regulations, such as clearly defined limitations on the number of people permitted to gather at indoor or outdoor events.

Professor Gómez-Olivé took the opportunity to bring attention to the difficulty Africa has had accessing vaccines and added that little is known about how rural areas are coping with Covid-19. He stressed the importance of including Africa in the effort of getting worldwide vaccine coverage.

Please click the links to watch or read Professor Xavier Gómez-Olivé’s interviews.

Television interviews

Written interviews or interviews with transcripts

Radio interviews

Press release

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