Monday, October 3, 2022

South Africa’s chief epidemiologist: outrageous and overreacting to the omicron travel ban

Last week, South African scientists warned the world about the discovery of a new variant of COVID-19, known as omicron, which has been responsible for the country’s recent spike in infections. In response, brawls erupted around the world as governments still grappling with the ramifications of the delta option changed policies to adapt to the threat posed by the omicron.

In the United States, this included a travel ban imposed almost immediately on South Africa and several other countries. The move drew criticism from the South African authorities and divided many public health experts – some considered the ban punitive, others prudent.

WATCH: US enters new rules for foreign travelers amid growing concerns over the omicron option

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa criticized travel bans in the country.

“We call on these countries, which have imposed travel bans on our country and other fraternal countries in southern Africa, to reverse their decisions immediately and without delay and lift their ban before any further damage is done to our economy and livelihoods. … people. There is no scientific basis for maintaining these restrictions. “

During a press conference on Monday, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki justified the travel ban, saying it was not intended to “punish” South Africa for its early detection of the omicron variant.

“The purpose here is not to punish, but to protect the American people. As you just heard, the President said that it will not prevent it, it will be a delay, and this delay will help us have the necessary time for our health professionals and medical teams to conduct the research, to vaccinate more people and get more people to grow up. ” said Psaki.

We spoke with South African epidemiologist Professor Salim Abdul Karim about how news of this latest option was handled in the US and what it could mean for the international public health community. Karim was co-chair of the South African Ministerial Advisory Committee, a body of public health experts advising the government on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and has become a widely recognized figure in providing pandemic information and advice to the South African public. about how to protect yourself.

He was also a prominent figure in HIV / AIDS research and was part of the efforts of activists and lawyers in the 1990s and 2000s to pressure the South African government to better address the HIV / AIDS crisis.

How has the South Africa travel ban affected the country?

SALIM ABDUL KARIM, Director of the Center for the AIDS Research Program in South Africa and Professor of Global Health at Columbia University.

“The immediate reaction to the announcement of the variant was simply outrageous and it was an overreaction. I was dumbfounded that they would take such action because, in essence, they are telling the rest of the world that in the future, if you have good surveillance systems and mechanisms to identify a new option and detect it early, then whatever you do , don’t tell the world, keep it a secret. Let another country make an announcement so you don’t have to bear the burden of our response. [to endure]…

Because you know what he basically does is punish South Africa and make South Africa take on the economic consequences. And what’s even more ridiculous is that this option is now spreading in many countries, including those that have introduced the ban. I think what amazed me is that when the world is facing a threat, we need to work together to confront the virus. Instead, we are confronting each other, we are building fences, we are building barriers where we really should be building bridges, and we should be looking for ways to work with each other to solve this problem. ”

How do you think this might affect other countries warning the international community of new options?

ABDUL KARIM:
“I think how South Africa has dealt with this impact. I think we once had about 40 countries where travel was prohibited from South Africa. The net effect is huge economic losses, especially since it’s the holiday season. We have a lot of travelers this time of year. So we say to the world, “Nothing will be achieved by putting in place surveillance systems to detect such options.” All you get is punishment. So don’t do it. ” Actually, this is the message. “

How fair is the White House argument that the travel ban delayed the emergence of the omicron in the United States?

ABDUL KARIM:
“So I think the travel ban might have, and that big if, might have some short-term benefit, and it would be a very short-term prospect, if any, in reducing the initial seeding of the virus. The virus has already been seeded, so you cannot undo it because the virus has spread even before we knew it existed. And of course, most of the people who spread it don’t even have symptoms, so they don’t know they are spreading it. The point is that even if it does have an impact, even if it does benefit, it will be so small and short-lived that it really isn’t worth implementing. And this is a big “if” if there is any benefit from it. So I find it counterproductive. This led to a situation of bad faith and effectively dealt a blow to science. It was a blow to transparency. And instead of us scientists discussing with our British colleagues: “How are we going to fight this option?”, We are discussing with them: “What information do they need to lift the travel ban?” So it distracts us from the current task. “

What is the role of the United States in increasing vaccination rates around the world?

ABDUL KARIM:
“You know, this is a very unusual situation. When faced with a pandemic, your most powerful weapon against that threat must be systematically accessed and disseminated. You cannot take your most powerful weapon and hand it over to pharmaceutical executives for distribution because they have a different set of goals than public health goals. And that’s what we basically did. We told the world that “we will spread the benefits of the vaccine in a way that private companies do.” This is what we have. “

READ MORE: New Omicron Variant Brings Inequality for COVID-19 Vaccine

“So South Africa was the classic case. We purchased 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccine. We were now waiting for our doses to be delivered, and what happened in between was that Israel decided to provide booster doses to its population. So the doses, as you know, are sent to Israel first. Why is Israel first? Because the pharmaceutical company has decided that Israel is a favorite market. And so we just have to go to the end of the line. And every time a favorable market comes up, they get out of line. So we kept on finishing, we were postponed and postponed. So it was pretty late when we got the vaccines. We received vaccines only in June. It was a time when most of the population in the United States was vaccinated to get vaccinated. “

“So we are in a situation where distribution systems and the benefits of tools like the vaccine have led us to really stop functioning and become counterproductive to fight the pandemic, because you cannot deal with the pandemic in any way, if where only one country or a few countries vaccinate their own population, while the virus spreads in other countries. This is not a solution to the pandemic. “

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Deskhttps://nationworldnews.com
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