Knee-jerk bans on travel to and from southern Africa, sparked by fears of the new Omicron variant of the virus that causes Covid-19, run against WHO policy advice.

They have already failed, and are a kick in the teeth for the region’s hard-hit tourism industry.

The last few days proved that the politicians of the UK, Europe and the US are grossly ignorant, and don’t give a fig about the people of sub-Saharan Africa.

When South African scientists, because of their vigilance and expertise, identified a new Covid-19 variant of concern, and did the right thing by alerting the rest of the world, panicked rich countries had no qualms slamming the door shut on the region’s fingers.

They summarily cancelled flights and banned travellers from southern Africa other than returning citizens. In what may be a world first, only Australia seems sane.

These countries closed their borders even though they know absolutely nothing about the new variant, and standing World Health Organisation (WHO) policy advice is that travel bans simply do not work.

Never, says Hanlon’s Razor, attribute to malice that which can adequately be explained by stupidity. Yet it is impossible not to be very angry at the depth of the ignorance and callous disregard of consequences displayed by these foreign health officials and politicians.

Eager to be seen to be doing something, they hoped that falsely scapegoating the stereotypical dark, disease-ridden Africa might give their citizens the impression that they’re being kept safe.

Perhaps they thought that by pandering to their people’s prejudices, their people would overlook their own incompetence. Instead of following globally accepted infectious disease advice, these officials and politicians, from Joe Biden on down, stooped to crass, bigoted populism, and damn the consequences. It’s disgraceful.

Causing poverty and suicide

Banning travel has no benefit whatsoever, except that it grinds the long-suffering economies of poor, tourism-dependent countries into the dirt. They don’t stop the spread of the virus, but they cause bankruptcies, unemployment and poverty. They burden local healthcare services with new cases of malnutrition, depression and suicide. They reduce the resources tourism-dependent countries have to fight the pandemic. They literally do nothing but cause death, despair and destruction.

Unlike in rich countries, there is no safety net here. Southern African governments do not have the means to compensate tourism companies for lost business, or pay unemployment to people who lost their jobs to the rash actions of foreign governments.

The so-called ‘Covid relief grant’ in South Africa, paid to people who lost their jobs to the pandemic, amounts to £16, or $22, per month. In London, that would buy a burger and a couple of beers.

The people turfed out of jobs by the rich world’s ill-advised travel bans are expected to feed their families on that pittance, for an entire month.

They even call it the ‘South African variant’, though it might have originated anywhere, and South Africa’s only crime was to have competent geneticists like Tulio d’Oliveira, who had the expertise to identify it and the moral fortitude to alert the world despite the irrational discrimination he knew it could bring down upon innocent South Africans.

The new variant, Omicron, is already in multiple European and other countries, including Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as the UK. And even if it wasn’t there already, the hordes of fleeing tourists would carry it back with them. There’s no stopping it.

For all we know, it actually came from there. After all, all of South Africa’s early Covid-19 infections came from Europe, even though South Africa imposed early travel bans, too. Covid-19 came to South Africa, and spread around the world, because travel bans don’t work.

Against WHO advice

The new travel bans have already failed. Omicron has already spread around the globe. All travel bans do now is cause unnecessary panic, financial losses, bankruptcies, depression, job losses, hunger, and suicide.

Don’t take my word for it. Have a listen to David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy and one of the world’s highest-ranking experts on Covid-19: ‘It’s really unfortunate that the immediate reaction is to cancel flights and to stop people from South Africa being able to travel. … Most of the evidence that we’ve had over the years tells us that it’s really difficult to keep viruses and bacteria out of countries through border restrictions. It just doesn’t work.’ (My emphasis.)

Nabarro has strong words for the UK, which was the first country to cancel flights to and from southern Africa: ‘What we’ve also learned is that actually what you’ve really got to do is to work on how the virus is transmitted within your country. Right now in the UK, there is very limited official requirement for mask use, at least in England, very little official requirement for physical distancing, and very little official requirement for hygiene. And yet we know that those are the most effective ways of stopping this virus from spreading. So it seems kind of odd that on the one hand the UK is not following the official guidance on what you do to reduce Covid spread, but on the other hand is saying we’re going to move very quickly to shut our borders, when certainly from the WHO side, we have not recommended that kind of action at all.’

So, doing what doesn’t work, and not doing what does work. Sounds about par for the course for how ignorant, craven politicians respond to Covid-19, doesn’t it?

Although Nabarro claims to be careful not to make remarks that appear to be critical of any government, he nevertheless says: ‘I just want to say that, in general, with regard to decisions about flights from Southern Africa, I just want to be very clear that as soon as you start doing these kinds of restrictions or travel bans, you’re also having an impact on the economy of countries. Southern African nations have been badly hit by Covid. They do not have much room to be able to provide extra support to people whose income might be reduced because of unemployment or other factors due to decisions taken by other nations. So, just everybody, when you’re going ahead and introducing these kinds of unilateral travel restrictions, or whether it’s for people from a particular nation or for people who are not vaccinated or whatever, please think of the human consequences.’

Another ruined season

Even if rich-world countries promptly reversed their ill-advised travel policies, the damage has already been done. South Africa’s surviving tour operators are already processing cancellations and refunds, wondering how they’ll face another ruined summer season, when they had hoped a moderately successful season might pull them out of the financial hole caused by last year’s ruined summer season. Those who didn’t go under then, surely will go under now.

Meanwhile, rich-world politicians can pat themselves on the back for another panicked failure which achieved nothing but sow misery and despair.

Merry bloody Christmas to you too, you ignorant, craven fools. I hope you sleep well at night. You all owe South Africa and its neighbours a grovelling apology, and financial compensation for the disastrous harm your idiotic recklessness has caused. Then resign in disgrace. None of you are fit to lead.


The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets. Follow him on Twitter, @IvoVegter.