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South Africa blasts UK for hasty Covid travel ban

South Africa has hit out at the UK after the British government rushed to impose a travel ban on multiple African nations over concerns about a mutated strain of the Covid virus, which has been detected in a small number of cases.

On Thursday evening, the UK moved several African countries to its ‘red list,’ restricting travel to essential journeys and requiring all arrivals to quarantine. 

The Covid restrictions on travel to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa were imposed swiftly due to concerns from British officials that the ‘Nu’ B.1.1.529 strain of the coronavirus could be more transmissible, while vaccines “may be less effective” against it.

Responding to the UK’s actions, South Africa’s foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, on Friday criticized the travel ban as risking causing damage to “both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries.”

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South Africa’s Foreign Ministry has said it will seek to convince the UK to reconsider the restrictions. Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa is set to convene an advisory council on Sunday to discuss the country’s response to the Nu strain.

The criticism from South Africa was supported by scientists who have called for less of a focus on travel bans and more attention to be directed towards bolstering vaccination programs. 

“This virus can evolve in the absence of adequate levels of vaccination. It’s upsetting that it takes this to happen to get the point across,” Richard Lessells, a South Africa-based infectious disease expert, told Reuters.

Currently, only around 35% of South African adults are fully inoculated against Covid-19, while the number is lower in other African nations, as the continent has struggled to compete against wealthier nations for access to vaccine supplies.

On Friday, Belgium reported the first known case of the ‘Nu’ variant in Europe, believed to have been found in a young woman who had recently traveled to Egypt via Turkey. 

While scientists are still analyzing samples taken from the woman, they have confirmed the results look “suspicious” and are not the Delta variant, which is dominant in Belgium.

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