Parliamentarians from southern Africa on Tuesday called for “remedial measures” to address the problem of ever-mutating COVID-19 variants and avoid economic disruptions such as the current travel bans imposed by most Western countries on people travelling from the region.Several Western and other countries have since last week imposed bans on travellers from at least eight southern African nations following the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant called Omicron, which is said to spread faster than previous variants.
However, meeting on the sidelines of the ongoing 143rd Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting underway in the Spanish capital Madrid, the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF) caucus said a more permanent solution was needed instead of the current knee-jerk responses that are not based on scientific evidence.
“It is imperative that remedial measures be found, especially bearing in mind the human rights of travellers who are stalled in foreign destinations pending the reopening of the flight routes back home,” the caucus said.
It added: “Perhaps the most important question currently is which vaccine would respond best to the new variants, and if this information is known, vaccine deployment strategies must be engaged to respond accordingly.”
The parliamentarians noted that travel bans are never favourable to the economy, “whether it is the economy of the imposing country or the one of the affected country.”
“Travel bans are also devastating to airline companies who are struggling to stay afloat and to rebuild after almost two years of travel slowdown.”
The parliamentarians said such travel bans should only be imposed based on verified and reliable information that has been preferably endorsed by the World Health Organisation.
“While public health remains a priority, the forum considers that there is a need to rely at all times on verified scientific and empirical data, such as those shared by the World Health Organisation before imposing travel bans that may seem unjust or harsh for some countries.”
The forum reiterated the need for the equitable distribution of vaccines to ensure that all countries attain herd immunity.
“This echoes the reflection made that nobody is safe until everybody is safe from COVID-19,” the parliamentarians said.
African countries have been criticising rich nations for hoarding vaccines and leaving poorer regions exposed to the virus that has infected millions globally.