Australia’s travel ban on non-citizens from nine countries to stop the spread of Omicron has been labelled as “unfair” and “discriminatory” by the South African high commissioner to Australia.
Marthinus van Schalkwyk called for the rule to be reversed on Monday, telling ABC’s RN Breakfast that Australia’s decision to stop entry from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, The Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique was a “knee-jerk” reaction.
Mr van Schalkwyk noted that in the last 24 hours South Africa had 21 deaths from 16,000 Covid cases, while the United Kingdom had 127 deaths from 145,000 cases.
“We have a population of 60 million, while the UK has 67 million,” he told the ABC.
“We believe (the travel rule) is discrimination because the only difference is these countries are on the African continent.
“The figures are not even comparable in terms of death and in terms of total numbers.
“When China was alleged to not be transparent, Australia led the campaign and lay down the gold standard of what transparency means.
“South Africa acted 100 per cent in terms of that gold standard and the immediate response was a travel ban.
“So, yes, we are convinced it would not have happened if South Africa was a European country.”
Mr van Schalkwyk said he wanted the ban to be lifted.
“We’ve always said the ban is unfair, there’s no evidence the ban works, the World Health Organisation confirms that. We believe it should be immediately reversed,” he said.
Mr van Schalkwyk said instead the focus should be on being double vaccinated, wearing masks and taking other precautions to protect against Covid.
Health Minister Greg Hunt and chief medical officer Paul Kelly put the new travel restriction in place on November 29 after Omicron was labelled a “variant of concern”.
Mr Hunt said the rule was put in place based on medical advice.
“On the basis of medical advice, the Australian government will be implementing additional precautionary border security measures in order to protect Australians while more is learnt about the nature and impact of the Omicron variant of concern,” he said.
Omicron, which originated in South Africa, has a large number of mutations on its spike protein compared with other variants and very early evidence suggests it seems to be more contagious, although less severe in its symptoms.
The United States is now considering lifting its own travel ban with eight countries in southern Africa due to Omicron appearing to be less severe than first feared.
White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said he hoped the US would lift its ban on travellers from these nations in a “reasonable period of time”.
“It’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it,’’ Dr Fauci told CNN.
“Thus far it does not look like a great degree of severity to it, but we’ve really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to Delta.”