James TweedieAll materialsWrite to the authorThe US, UK, Australia, and other nations have moved rapidly to slap travel bans on South Africa and eight neighbouring countries within days of scientists there identifying a new variant of COVID-19, dubbed Omicron by WHO.The head of a prestigious South African hospitality chain has warned that knee-jerk reactions to the latest COVID-19 variant could lead to major job losses in the sector.Marc Wachsberger, managing director of The Capital Hotels and Apartments, spoke out on Saturday after Western countries slapped travel bans on South Africa and neighbouring countries over the Omicron variant — recently identified by South African microbiologists.”Why do our SA scientists have to take so much pride in finding variants and then announcing them so publicly, without first analysing vaccine efficacy?” Wachsberger asked.”Do they not understand that this fearmongering is directly taking food out of people’s mouths, with more than 300,000 overseas tourists now no longer able to come into SA and bring our travel and related industries back to life?”
The firm runs a dozen luxury hotel and spa sites across South Africa, a member of the BRICS economic cooperation alliance of leading emerging economies.Wachsberger questioned speculation that existing COVID-19 vaccines or even natural immunity to other strains could be useless against the Omicron variant, leading to so-called “breakthrough infections”.But just 27 per cent of South Africans are fully immunised against the virus almost a year after the first vaccines were approved for use there.Claims that AstraZeneca’s Oxford jab was less effective against mild cases of the virus from the Beta variant — based on a single small study — led to South Africa ditching one million doses imported from India earlier this year. The 55-nation African Union bloc’s health bodies followed suit shortly afterwards.
Similar fears about earlier “variants of concern”, including the Delta strain first identified in India, have so far proven unfounded.
"I’m certain that in just a week or two we will have the data that says that this new variant does not evade vaccines", Wachsberger said. “There have been several variants found to date, none of which evade vaccines, and there is still strong evidence to encourage everyone to be vaccinated".
South African Medical Association Says Omicron Variant Causes ‘Mild Disease’Yesterday, 10:25 GMTThe hotel executive urged governments to wait for solid evidence “before jumping to conclusions and affecting the livelihoods of so many,” and called on the Health Department to “to stop this fearmongering and control our scientists who are brilliant in science but who should be more cautious in communication”.
On Friday, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla hit back at those countries moving swiftly to isolate his country and its Southern African neighbours, after it shared its discovery of the new variant in good faith.”We want to be honest players in the world”, he said. “We want to make sure that we share information to the health benefit of not just SA but also citizens of the world”.
"This is really a worldwide health emergency, which should be treated as such", Phaahla added. "We must work together, rather than punish each other. If we're going to be on a witch-hunt or blame-game, it won't benefit anybody".
World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy on COVID-19 David Nabarro told Sky News that the world’s reaction to South Africa’s discovery of the strain “feels like a punishment”.”It’s really unfortunate that the immediate reaction has been to cancel flights and stop people from South Africa being able to travel”, Nabarro said. “From the WHO side, we have not recommended that type of action at all”.