South Africa said on Saturday it was being punished for its advanced ability to detect new COVID-19 variants early after some countries announced travel bans to South Africa and other countries in the region because of the new Omicron variant.

The Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

The Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said the travel ban will have a negative impact on South Africa’s families, the travel and tourism industries and business. It said in a statement:

 This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.

Excellent science should be applauded and not punished.

The foreign ministry noted that while the new variant was also detected in other countries, the global reaction to those countries has been “starkly different” to cases in southern Africa.

The new variant was first announced on Wednesday by a team of scientists in South Africa who said they had detected a variant that could possibly evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible.

On Friday the World Health Organization named it Omicron and designated it as a “variant of concern” – its most serious level – saying preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of re-infection. 

The government was engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider, it added.

On Friday, the WHO cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the variant, saying they should take a “risk-based and scientific approach”.

More: Reuters