South Africa on Friday slammed as “rushed” Britain’s travel ban from six southern African countries, following the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant with a large number of mutations.
Just hours after scientists in South Africa announced they had detected a new variant, Britain said all flights from South Africa and its neighbours Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana would be prohibited starting 1200 GMT on Friday.
“Whilst South Africa respects the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, the UK’s decision to temporarily ban South Africans from entering the UK seems to have been rushed as even the World Health Organisation is yet to advise on the next steps,” the foreign ministry said in a statement Friday.
The ministry said it would speak to the UK to try to persuade it to reconsider its decision.
South Africa has in recent days experienced a surge in infections -recording 2,465 new infections in a 24-hour cycle on Thursday – nearly double the previous day’s tally.
Scientists blamed the spike in infections on the variant, which goes by the scientific label B.1.1.529.
The number of fatalities shot to 114 on Thursday from 22 the previous day, in Africa’s hardest-hit country.
In the meantime, Britain, which has been among the hardest hit by COVID-19, recorded more than 47,000 positive cases in a 24-hour period to Thursday.
South Africa was hoping for increased tourist numbers during its southern hemisphere summer and year-end festive season after the UK removed it from its “red list” in October, which had forced travellers into a pricey hotel quarantine on their arrival in Britain.
“Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries,” bemoaned South Africa’s international relations and cooperation minister, Naledi Pandor.