Expert lashes countries over Omicron variant: 'A failure'

As the world races to contain the threat of the Omicron coronavirus variant, one expert has slammed western countries saying the new outbreak is a result of the failure to vaccinate developing nations.

Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Union’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, appeared on the BBC World News program on Sunday (local time), criticising the decision to introduce travel bans with several African countries.

She said a new Covid-19 variant was "inevitable" and the emergence of Omicron is a result of the "failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner", and the hoarding of the vaccine by high-income countries of the world.

Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija in an interview with the BBC about the Omicron variant.
Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija slammed many countries' decisions to shut their borders. Source: BBC

“Had the first SARS-Covid virus — the one that was first identified in China last year — originated in Africa it is now clear that the world would have locked us away and thrown away the key,” she said.

“There would have been no urgency to develop vaccines because we would have been expendable, Africa would have become known as the continent of Covid."

Only a quarter of South Africans are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

African travel bans based on 'politics not science'

Dr Olatunbosun-Alakija said new variants were always a high possibility due to low vaccination rates in developing countries.

She added travel bans were based on "politics and not in science".

"What are we planning to do? Are we just planning to act politically, a knee-jerk reaction so that we can satisfy those people within our countries by keeping those unvaccinated Africans out?

"Why are the Africans unvaccinated? It's an outrage."

South Africa's president Cyril Ramaphosa condemned the imposed travel bans saying he was "deeply disappointed" by the action, calling for the bans to be urgently lifted.

"The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant," Mr Ramaphosa said on Sunday.

"The only thing [prohibition on travel] will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to the pandemic."

Lines of people with luggage at an airport.
NSW, Victoria, SA and the ACT have introduced new rules for all international travellers in a bid to contain the spread of Omicron. Source: EPA

Australia tightens restrictions

Health Minister Greg Hunt announced precautionary measures for Australians who have travelled to South Africa on Saturday.

"These actions are taken on the basis of cautious prevention. We're in a strong position, but we know that acting early is what has protected Australia throughout the pandemic," he told reporters.

Several states and territories have moved swiftly to reimpose travel restrictions with fears the Omicron variant will spread.

On Sunday, NSW Health confirmed two overseas travellers who landed in Sydney on Saturday night are infected with the new Omicron variant of concern.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it's not yet clear whether Omicron, first detected in Southern Africa, is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.

"Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalisation in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection," WHO said.

WHO said understanding the level of severity of Omicron "will take days to several weeks".

with AAP

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