Covid-19: UN chief 'deeply concerned' by southern Africa's isolation over Omicron variant

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday he was "deeply concerned" as countries around the world imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa in an attempt to stop the spread of a worrying new Covid-19 variant discovered there.

"The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa - and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world," Guterres said in a statement.

"I am now deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries due to new Covid-19 travel restrictions," the UN chief said.

Countries across the world have reacted to the Omicron strain by slamming their borders shut despite the variant having already reached Europe, Asia and North America.

READ | Covid-19: New variant puts SA at risk of global shut-out

Guterres appealed to governments to instead consider alternative measures including repeated testing for travelers, to "avoid the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has determined the overall risk from Omicron to be "very high" - but the WHO's director for Africa also spoke out against barring travelers from the continent, saying it "attacks global solidarity."

Officials in South Africa, where the variant was first flagged on Thursday, have said they are being "punished" for identifying a strain that has now been detected everywhere from the Netherlands to Britain, Canada and Hong Kong, while Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera accused Western countries of "Afrophobia."

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