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EditorialsEditorial: Avoid travel apartheid

Editorial: Avoid travel apartheid

Published: 9th Dec 2021 12:05 am | Updated: 8th Dec 2021 7:15 pm

No global crisis can be tackled in isolation. It requires a global response; a joint international effort where all nations must speak in one voice. The pandemic has taught some hard lessons to the world. The key among them is that the issues of public health and safety transcend the borders and that no one is considered safe until everyone is safe. At a time when the international community needs to mount a coordinated effort to win the ongoing war against the virus, it is unfortunate that some nations are being singled out by the wealthy western countries for travel ban in the name of preventing the spread of Omicron, the new variant of the coronavirus that originated in South Africa and has been spreading to other nations. ‘Travel apartheid’ has now entered the lexicon of the new-age global diplomacy, an expression that speaks about deliberate discrimination against certain countries. Dozens of countries have imposed sweeping travel restrictions on African nations, some of which have yet to detect any cases of the variant. It has reignited the debate over the effectiveness of border closures and the travel bans have been met with outrage and claims of scapegoating regions after South Africa raised the alarm about the new variant. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has rightly described the measures as travel apartheid and called for using the existing instruments for safe travel instead of singling out certain countries. It must be remembered that the bans that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive but are also ineffective.

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Chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus too has joined the issue and said that blanket bans are not evidence-based and would not serve any purpose. Travel bans will not stop the spread of variants but will discourage countries from reporting and sharing important data. There is a growing perception that African countries that first raised the alarm about the new variant are being penalized by others for doing the right thing. Nigeria’s inclusion on England’s red list after cases of the Omicron Covid variant were linked to travel from the country has been condemned as travel apartheid. Senior politicians from South Africa and other countries have pointed out that the Omicron response from the international community has exposed deep-seated anti-Africa sentiment. For instance, Canada has not only banned foreign travellers from African countries from entering the country but also asked its citizens who have been in those countries to obtain a negative Covid-19 molecular test from a ‘third country’. Such measures are totally unwarranted and discriminatory. There is a need for western countries to take rational and proportional risk reduction measures in keeping with international health regulations. There is no room for racism in the global efforts to end the pandemic.

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