African scientist who helped identify Omicron variant slams travel bans

2021-12-04 20:25:47
African scientist who helped identify Omicron variant slams travel bans

The Botswana scientist who may well have discovered the omicron variant of the coronavirus says he has been on a rollercoaster of emotions, with the pride of accomplishment followed by dismay over the travel bans immediately slapped on southern African countries.

“Is that how you reward science? By blacklisting countries?” Dr. Sikhulile Moyo, a virologist at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, said in an interview Thursday night with The Associated Press.

“The virus does not know passports, it does not know borders,” he added. "We should be collaborating and understanding.”

The Zimbabwe-born Moyo - who is also a research associate at Harvard's school of public health, a married father of three, and a gospel singer - expressed pride in the way he and his international colleagues were transparent about their findings and sounded the alarm to the rest of the world.

Moyo, 48, was doing genomic sequencing of COVID-19 samples at his lab in Botswana two weeks ago and noticed three cases that seemed dramatically different, with an unusual pattern showing multiple mutations.

He continued studying the results and by early last week, decided to publicly release the data on the internet. Soon scientists in South Africa said they had made the same findings and an identical case in Hong Kong was also identified.

A new coronavirus variant had been discovered, and soon the World Health Organization (WHO) named it Omicron. It has now been identified in 38 countries and counting, including much of Western Europe and the United States.

And the U.S. and many other nations have imposed flight restrictions to try to contain the emerging threat.

African leaders have condemned the travel bans imposed over the Omicron coronavirus variant, accusing wealthy countries of being hypocrites for delivering new restrictions instead of the vaccine doses to the continent.

It has now emerged that Omicron was already present in Europe before the travel bans were announced. It's still not known where Omicron originated.

And yet the travel restrictions have been squarely aimed at southern Africa -- including countries that have still not found evidence of the new variant.

That has prompted a wave of fury from African politicians and public health officials, who are exasperated by the lack of support they've received from the West, which they say are now discriminating against countries still desperate for vaccine doses.

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