WHO chief says Botswana and South Africa being ‘penalized’ for detecting, sequencing and reporting Omicron variant rapidly: This is ‘deeply concerning to me’

The WHO chief called on all Member States to "take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the International Health Regulations."

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday that Botswana and South Africa were being ‘penalized’ for detecting, sequencing and reporting Omicron variant rapidly, describing the travel bans imposed on their countries as “deeply concerning to me.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa hosts a welcome ceremony for his Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya. November 23, 2021. 
President Cyril Ramaphosa hosts a welcome ceremony for his Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya. November 23, 2021.

“Once again, I thank Botswana and South Africa for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant so rapidly. It is deeply concerning to me that those countries are now being penalized by others for doing the right thing,” Dr. Ghebreyesus said in opening remarks at the Member State Information Session on the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in Geneva where the special session of the World Health Assembly is taking place. “I well understand the concern of all countries to protect their citizens against a variant that we don’t yet fully understand. But I am equally concerned that several Member States are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities.”

The WHO chief called on all Member States to “take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures, in keeping with the International Health Regulations.”

“We continue to call on all Member States to optimize public health and social measures and ensure that high-risk and vulnerable individuals in all countries are fully vaccinated immediately,” he said.

Botswana President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi 
Botswana President Dr. Mokgweetsi Masisi

He said the global response must be calm, coordinated and coherent.

“At the same time, we must not forget that we are already dealing with a highly transmissible, dangerous variant – the Delta variant, which accounts for almost all cases globally.We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from Delta. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from Omicron – so enhancing surveillance, testing, sequencing and reporting,” he added.

President Joe Biden reads the newspaper before a phone call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden reads the newspaper before a phone call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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