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Health minister Joe Phaahla. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA/BUSINESS DAY
Health minister Joe Phaahla. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA/BUSINESS DAY

The health department has slammed various countries for their “knee-jerk reactions” by imposing travel bans or restrictions on SA.

Speaking during a briefing on Friday evening, health minister Dr Joseph Phaahla said these decisions were “draconian” and didn’t make scientific sense.

“The leadership of some countries is finding scapegoats to deal with what is a worldwide problem,” he said.

This comes after a new Covid-19 variant — B.1.1.529 — was announced on Thursday, with concerns that it could be more transmissible than other variants. The variant was quickly spreading through the country, experts warned.

As a result, within a few hours, travel restrictions were imposed on Southern African nations, including SA — most notably by the UK, which placed the countries on the “red list”.

But Phaahla was very critical of this decision.

“This is really a worldwide health emergency, which should be treated as such ... We must work together, rather than punish each other. If we're going to be on a witch-hunt or blame-game, it won't benefit anybody,” he said.

He said the announcement was done in the interests of “transparency”, so that the World Health Organization and other health bodies could take appropriate action.

“We’re saying that the reaction from some countries in terms of travel bans and other such measures are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the WHO,” he said.

Asked whether, in the light of the actions taken by some countries against SA, the country's health bodies would consider not making such announcements on variants.

“That’s not something we're looking at,” he said. “We want to be honest players in the world. We want to make sure that we share information to the health benefit of not just SA but also citizens of the world.”

At the same briefing, Phaahla and Right To Care founder and ministerial advisory committee member Prof Ian Sanne said there were strong indications that the Covid-19 vaccines were effective against the new variant.

Sanne said: “In terms of vaccine effectivity, there is an indication of an increase of percentage of cases identified that are indeed due to breakthrough infections, or within groups that have been previously vaccinated. This rate is higher than it was previously. But we have every indication that the vaccines are still effective in preventing severe disease and/or complications.

“The data, however, is small and early. We have additional people hospitalised, but the overall impression is that the ratio of unvaccinated to vaccinated is 4:1 at this time. People should still go out and get vaccinated.”

Correction: November 28 2021
Prof Ian Sanne was misquoted as saying the ratio of people hospitalised for Covid-19 was 4:1 vaccinated against unvaccinated. It is the opposite.



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