By Daniel Otunge
Dutch health authorities have revealed that they had found the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 eleven days earlier before South African authorities announced its discovery. The question is, why didn’t the Dutch tell the world about it earlier?
With this revelation, it is safe to say that Omicron was already spreading in western Europe before the first cases were identified in southern Africa through the diligence, transparency and accountability of the South African health authorities.
This new discovery and revelation by the RIVM health institute of Netherlands confirming unequivocally that it had detected the Omicron variant of coronavirus in samples dating from November 19 and 23 puts into sharp focus the truth about the origins of omicron.
Suffice it to say that Dutch findings predate the positive cases found among Amsterdam-bound passengers from South Africa 26 Friday.
Additionally, other key European countries, including Belgium and Germany, have confirmed existence of the variant in their jurisdictions long before its discovery and public announcement in South Africa. Omicron has now spread to more than 20 countries as at December 2, 2021.
The swift imposition of travel bans against a number of countries by Israel and other western countries, was a slap in the face of South Africa and its scientists for doing the right thing. The Southern Africa media, politicians and scientists are right to feel angry and betrayed.
The billion Rand question they are asking is why similar travel bans have not been slapped on other countries that have publicly acknowledged they got the variant first? The continued punishment of Southern Africa countries has set a dangerous precedent that is likely to compromise transparency and accountability in the way states announce discovery of new variants.
This may also explain why China, suspected to be the origin of COVID-19 at Wuhan, is said to have denied the WHO investigators full access to the labs and more importantly freedom to operate.
The swift imposition of travel bans by a number of countries including Israel and other western countries, was a slap in the face of South Africa and its scientists for doing the right thing. The southern Africa media, politicians and scientists are right to feel angered and betrayed.
The billion Rand question they are asking is why similar travel bans have not been slapped on other countries that have publicly acknowledged they had omicron first? The continued punishment of Southern Africa countries has set a dangerous precedent that is likely to compromise transparency and accountability in the way states come forth with information upon discovery of new variants.
This may also explain why China, suspected to be the origin of COVID-19 at Wuhan, is said to have denied the WHO investigators fully access to the labs and more importantly freedom to operate. The travel bans against South Africa and its neighbors amount to punishing a responsible member of the international community for behaving according to international customary law requiring full, efficient discloser of outbreaks of pathogens of global concern and consequences like Sars-Cov-2.
Although states have a right to take precaution in fulfilment of their duties to protect their population, it should not be at the expense of South Africa and indeed Africa for doing the correct thing. The travel bans should not be selective and discriminatory. It’s against the principles of natural justice and it offends international law.
The world should follow the wise advice by the World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and lift the travel bans immediately and instead pursue the path of collaboration, cooperation and collective responsibility. It is the only path available for humanity to defeat this pandemic.
Although the jury is still out on whether the Omicron strain is more easily transmissible and makes people more severely ill than the already-well-known variants, such as Delta, the WHO has warned that the global risk it poses is “very high” based on early evidence. Dr. Ghebreyesus said “it could lead to surges around the world with severe consequences.”
But the signs are there that Omicron could be more dangerous if the warning by the boss of Moderna Company, one of the COVID-19 vaccine makers, is anything to go by. The Moderna CEO has been quoted by the US media saying “the existing vaccines may be significantly less effective against Omicron,” he said, adding: “All the scientists I’ve talked to… are like, this is not going to be good.”
Even so, the current deregulated vaccines have shown sterling resilience against the virus and its mutations. Thus, we can be cautiously optimistic and hopeful that the approved vaccines will stand their ground in fighting for us against this latest mutant as the AstraZeneca Company observed in its statement about Omicron.
“Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that Omicron is any different,” AstraZeneca said, adding that it has the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated COVID-19 vaccine if it should be necessary.
As a parting shot, the continuing global panic caused by the discovery of Omicron and its potential disruptive capacity should reawaken the West to cold fact that no one, country or region is safe from any pandemic, COVID-19 included, until the rest of the world is safe so that they can availability of safe vaccines for all.