Omicron variant: African countries are not your scapegoats

Angel Baikakedi, Columnist

By now, you’ve probably heard about the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron. Scientists in South Africa were the first to announce that they had identified the variant on Nov. 24, 2021 and after that, other countries followed suit. Shortly after this news, the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, Australia and others unanimously decided to place travel bans on most southern African countries, when Omicron was only present in South Africa and Botswana. The decision to ban these countries is blatantly discriminatory, especially now that other non-African countries, including the US and the UK, have announced the presence of the virus in their own countries. Yet, there aren’t any bans in place for them.

This is not the first time we have seen something like this happen. When news of COVID-19 first spread, we saw similar reactions from the west towards China and again towards South Africa when they got word of the Beta variant. In as much as this mutation of the virus is said to be highly transmissible and more resistant to vaccines, hence the desire to want to do everything to contain it, the big question is, why haven’t other countries received similar treatment after they discovered the variant? 

It is important to note that this new mutation could have been found in any country, at any time, given the nature of the coronavirus and viruses in general. This means that punishing and blaming African countries for bringing forth the knowledge they have to share with the rest of the world is entirely uncalled for. Not only that, but the situation is out of their control—they did not deliberately create the new mutation, they simply spread the information about its discovery. What the west is doing is shooting the messenger instead of attempting to address the real situation at hand. It also discourages the prospect of future scientific discoveries in fear of being shut down again. When that happens, the west will again use this as an excuse to call Africa underdeveloped.

Another consistent thought is whether or not we are overreacting to this news? Yes, the new mutation is highly transmissible, but health officials said the same thing about the alpha, beta and delta variants which were similar. But there wasn’t an outburst as large as this about them. 

It is understandable that everyone wants to hear that we are finally at the end of this pandemic which has lasted for almost two years now. Added to that, the news about new variants isn’t at all pleasing given all the measures we have taken thus far. However, it is undeniably racist for the west to be placing travel bans on only southern African countries when the new variant has already spread. The least they can do now is revoke the ban or simply prohibit travel from those other countries as well. To combat this virus, we need more cooperation between nations than ever.