On November 11, scientists a Leading Laboratory in Botswana An unusual genomic sequence was observed in their coronavirus samples.
“It looked like it was far more distinctive than the lineage previously observed,” said Dr. Joseph Mkhema, head of the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, which oversees the lab. He alerted colleagues in South Africa, and also shared the details in a global sequencing network.
Scientists in South Africa had noticed rising COVID-19 cases in Gauteng province. Hurriya Tegli, a bioinformatics researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said they were immediately tasked with examining and reexamining the samples to identify this new strain.
“The world was worried and we wanted to get the data out.”
“It was a lot of pressure,” Tegli said. “The world was worried and we wanted to get the data out.”
World Health Organization by Friday named ommicron As the latest version of the concern, and alerted the whole world. But, recalling how the world reacted when the beta was identified, Tegli anticipated blanket travel restrictions – which many public health experts say are causing more harm than good.
Many places, especially Western countries such as the US and the European Union, announced travel restrictions from countries in southern Africa, such as Canada to the United Kingdom to Israel and elsewhere.
The ban has sparked outrage in targeted countries, including South Africa.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said, “These sanctions are completely unfair and discriminatory against our country and our South African allies.” said this week,
Ever since researchers in South Africa helped identify the beta version last year, the country’s network of public and private laboratories have stepped up their surveillance efforts for new variants, according to Tegli. across the continent, New sequencing laboratories have been opened, while others have expanded. Some are still getting off the ground.
The origin of the new virus is not yet completely clear. Malawi’s president posted on social media that there are sanctions sign of afrophobia,
Dr. Ayode Alkija, co-chair of the African Union’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance, further criticized the rationale for the travel ban.
“A coordinated, global closure of travel for next month, if you wish, but do not exclude Africa.”
“Why are we locking Africa away when this virus is already on three continents? No one is locking down Belgium, no one is locking down Israel, why are we shutting down Africa? That’s wrong!” Alkija told the bbc, “A coordinated, global closure of travel for next month, if you wish, but do not exclude Africa.”
Lawrence Gostin, a global health professor at Georgetown University, said anger is justified.
“In a way we’re just flying blind,” said Gostin, recently appointed to the new National Academy of Sciences committee that reviews the evidence for travel restrictions and restrictions.
He said that restrictions alone are not the solution, especially without so many relaxations for entry and global coordination.
“We have seen of late, inconsistent and porous travel restrictions, not realizing that, you know, someone from southern Africa … flies to Europe and then flies to the United States without any restrictions. “
“We have seen of late, inconsistent and porous travel restrictions, not realizing that, you know, someone from southern Africa … flies to Europe and then flies into the United States without any restrictions, ” They said.
Do travel restrictions work?
According to Gostin, past travel restrictions — especially when done alone — have done more harm than good during public health emergencies. Amid the West African Ebola outbreak, countries closed borders and focused on preparing for their potential outbreaks. This resulted in fewer resources and support going to the center of the outbreak, Gostin pointed out.
The dynamics of the coronavirus, a respiratory infection that has spread rapidly around the world, is different from that of Ebola, according to Kelly Lee, a researcher in the US. cross border measures at Simon Fraser University in Canada.
“Countries that moved quickly to restrict travel within their jurisdictions bought themselves time,” Li said, referring to places like China, which implemented very strict and cautious border measures since the beginning . But keeping cases down also includes other measures like social distancing, masking and vaccination.
In Hong Kong, Omicron cases were identified among people in quarantine hotels where people must visit upon entry. This is in stark contrast to Europe and the US, which opened up sharply this summer and fall and eased restrictions.
Lee said that when it comes to travel policies, consistent screening and testing policies at borders can make a big difference regardless of destination points. Other measures like contract tracing can also make a difference.
“As Omicron makes its way around the world, we need to look at borders not as a stop point, but as a monitoring point.”
“As Omicron makes its way around the world, we have to look at borders not as a stop point, but as a monitoring point,” she said.
The World Health Organization strongly depressed country By imposing a blanket travel ban. A bigger concern is that it may discourage countries from reporting it in the future. It can also have negative economic effects.
Gostin suggests setting up a system that would compensate countries that report new strains of the virus. It will help cover costs from potential harm caused by subsequent restrictions on travel, trade, or humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, the current situation has become difficult For scientists in Southern Africa who are trying to share important information about the virus and its spread.
“Instead of people saying, ‘Then how can we collaborate and work together to make sure we bring in resources that are able to track these events for the benefit of all? How do we empower some? How do we work together?’ And you get this pushback. It’s very unfortunate,” said Dr. Makema in Botswana.
Hurriya Tegli, a scientist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said people are suffering financially as a result of the ban.
“As scientists, it is really our job to inform. And then people get very angry at us,” she said.
She said she understands the anger, but is still focused on sharing what she learns, in the hope that one day, the world can overtake this pandemic.