World health experts are still searching for the origin of the Omicron version of the coronavirus. But in Botswana, where the first variant was reported, officials say what matters is where it was discovered, not where it came from.
Amid questions over the origins of Omicron, a new and highly communicable version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Botswana says the focus should be on finding a solution to the pandemic.
Botswana and South Africa were the first to report the new variant, which is said to be highly contagious and has spread around the world.
Initially, Omicron was believed to have originated from Botswana, but the southern African country was quick to dismiss the reports.
President Mokgwetsi Masi said in an interview with CNN on Thursday that the variant had been detected in diplomats who visited Botswana but had passed through Europe.
“Diplomats came from many countries, their countries of origin, their countries of action, and they went through many countries to get to Botswana,” said Masi. “Yes, some have gone to Europe and some have been elsewhere. It seems that the creation of this new virus is the result of interference from a variety of sources.”
But some scientists, including South African Richard Lassell, who was part of the team that discovered the new variant, say it is the key to tracing the origin of the variant.
One important way to break out of a divergence puzzle, he argues, is to trace genetic origins, which is why it’s important to know where the Omicron originated.
Trevor Bedford, a computational virologist and a professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the US city of Seattle, is also involved in researching the origin of the omicron.
He told US-based National Public Radio that identifying the source of the virus would help scientists assess the potential threat of the variant through educated guesses.
For example, he says, if Omicron was evolving visually over a period of months in a large population of humans, it could suggest that the variant is less permeable.
But Botswana’s Health Minister Edwin DiColotti says tracing the origin of the variant will only stigmatize the country where it has been detected.
“Where this virus originated is not important. We are not going to geo-politicize this virus,” DiColotti said. “It is important to applaud our scientists who discovered or discovered this virus in order to make the world aware of it so that we can act swiftly to reduce transmission.”
Dicolotti says Botswana will not disclose the nationalities of the four diplomats and their countries of origin.
President Massi says Botswana and South Africa are paying the price for Omicron’s discovery, as other countries have imposed travel restrictions on several African countries following the announcement.
Instead, they say the scientists who discovered and reported the variant should be observed.
“I would like to commend our scientific community for their efforts in monitoring the variant and for being the first to sequence the Omicron variant of concern and to make the information available to the international community,” said Massi. “The response by some countries to the detection of the Omicron variant is unfortunate as it appears to have caused unnecessary panic among the public worldwide.”
President Massi called the ban on most visitors to southern Africa divisive.
“Even though they didn’t originate in Europe, I don’t mind these travel restrictions,” Masi said. If I want to be more clear, these travel restrictions are nothing but an expression of neo-imperialist thinking. ” “These travel restrictions, if I may be very direct, are very patriarchal and very divisive, and they undermine our belief system in multilateralism. They question our belief in a declared addiction to human rights principles.”
While the new variant is said to be highly contagious, in Botswana, with a population of about 2.4 million people, the infection rate has been slow, with only 24 reported cases, all of them with mild symptoms.
While Botswana says it is not important to report the place of discovery of the Omicron version, scientists such as Bedford and Lessels argue that it is important to find out where it came from to help fight it.