African scientist who discovered Omicron variant says global reaction ‘unfair’
The global reaction to the discovery of the COVID-19 Omicron variant in Africa is a huge disappointment to scientist Sikhulile Moyo and his fellow researchers.
“We were saddened,” Moyo recently told the US news network NPR. “How do you reward the countries that alert you of a potential dangerous pathogen with travel bans?”
“For me, personally, I felt that after two years into the epidemic, clearly as the global health community, we could be responding better and coordinating better,” he added.
Moyo serves as lab director of the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership team that detected the Omicron variant in November. He’s also a research associate for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
He told NPR in an interview published Thursday that he and other scientists in Africa were disturbed when the US, the UK and other nations started issuing travel bans against eight African nations, including South Africa and Botswana, in late November after the latter two nations warned the world about Omicron.
“How do you reward the countries that alert you of a potential dangerous pathogen with travel bans?” Moyo said. “My country was put on a red list, and I didn’t feel good about that. We know the repercussions.”
Flights to and from Botswana were canceled following the travel ban, which limited imports coming into the country, according to Moyo.
On Dec. 2, the nation’s president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, said the travel bans were unacceptable, inhumane and demeaning.
“A lot of businesses lost millions,” Moyo said. “And our vaccine supply was being threatened because of delays on the way. Quite a trail of destruction.”
Masisi said four foreign diplomats who tested positive for Omicron, “came from a number of countries,” including some nations in Europe, according to the New York Times.
Moyo said the economic fallout in Botswana has motivated locals to condemn him and his fellow researchers.
“A number of people are saying, ‘You scientists, you bigmouths, look what you’ve done. You’ve locked out Christmas,'” he said.