'Punished for being transparent': Health dept laments knee-jerk reaction amid travel ban

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Minister of Health Joe Phaahla. Photo by GCIS.
Minister of Health Joe Phaahla. Photo by GCIS.
  • The Department of Health is concerned South Africa is being punished for being transparent about the new Covid-19 variant.
  • According to Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla, the country may need to implement stricter lockdown measures to prevent the spread of the variant.
  • The government has not decided on mandatory vaccinations.

The Department of Health has raised concerns South Africa is bearing the brunt of publicly announcing the new Covid-19 variant, as other countries placed it on the red list.

On Friday, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla, his deputy, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, and a panel of experts held a virtual question and answer media session on the latest developments around the variant.

Phaahla said they were aware the announcement had created panic and some uncertainty.

The UK subsequently placed South Africa on its red list of stricter travel regulations.

READ | New Covid-19 virus variant detected in SA: What we've learnt so far

"We want to assure South Africans and people elsewhere in the world that some of the reaction has actually been unjustified," he added.

"I am referring to especially the reaction of countries in Europe, the UK and a number of others. I'm told that a number of European Commission countries are also contemplating similar reaction."

Professor Tulio de Oliveira, who was part of the department's panel, said South Africa was being punished for being transparent with the discovery of the Covid-19 mutations.

He added the World Health Organisation (WHO) was just as concerned as South Africa about the variant.

"Many of them are very concerned about the mutations and the potential properties. So we are not alone on that.

"I know that [the majority] of the public are very upset with the reaction of the external world, including our minister and myself. I thought that was a knee-jerk reaction. Sometimes, we get punished for being transparent and [reporting] things very quick."


Responding to question whether South Africa would retaliate against other countries that have placed it on the red list, Phaahla said the government had never used retaliation as a measure to solve issues.

He added while he did not want to pre-empt the outcomes of consultations with scientists and other stakeholders, there might be some restrictions on local and international travel as part of the government's risk-adjusted strategy. 

However, nothing has been concluded, as more meetings will be held over the weekend.

"It will be necessary to take precautions. We know the measures which have worked, such as reducing crowding indoors and outdoors, and encouraging people to keep a social distance," Phaahla said.

Emphasising the importance of vaccination, Ministerial Advisory Committee member Professor Ian Sanne added there was every indication vaccines were effective on the new variant, but this would need to be monitored.

He encouraged the public to get vaccinated, warning the new variant might be more transmissible.

If you come across Covid-19 vaccination information that you do not trust, read Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here. If you can't find the facts you're looking for, email us at the address mentioned in the article and we will verify the information with medical professionals.
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