WHO stands with African nations to confront Omicron variant

As a growing number of countries impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new Omicron variant, the World Health Organization (WHO) urged countries to follow science and the International Health Regulations (2005), according to a statement released on Sunday.

Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19, but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods, said WHO’s regional office for Africa in a statement, noting that the implemented restrictions should be “scientifically based,” rather than “unnecessarily invasive or intrusive”, as stipulated in the International Health Regulations which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognised by over 190 nations.

According to the WHO, a special session of the World Health Assembly organised by WHO, would be held to discuss how to collectively prepare and respond better to pandemics, building on their commitments to the International Health Regulations.

South Africa followed International Health Regulations and as soon as its national laboratory identified the Omicron variant, informed WHO of this on November 24, added the WHO. 

“The speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant are to be commended,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, calling on all countries to “respect their legal obligations and implement scientifically based public health actions.” 

While investigations continue into the Omicron variant, WHO recommends countries to take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures that can limit its possible spread. 

“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity. COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions,” said Dr. Moeti. -Xinhua

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