Last week, South Africa announced that it had detected a new variant considered to be of concern: Omicron. Fearing that this variant will no longer be transmissible or cause more serious infections, many countries have started to impose restrictions on travelers.
Julianne Piper, coordinator of the Pandemics and Borders project at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, says arrival screening, sequencing and quarantine are much more effective. than the closing of the borders.
hours before going on the flight, she says, we have time to take a taxi, to go to a restaurant, to see people; there are plenty of times when we can be infected. “,” text “:” If we do a test 24 or 72 hours before going on the flight, she says, we have time to take a taxi, to to go to restaurants, to see people; there are plenty of times when we can get infected. “}}”>If we do a test 24 or 72 hours before going on the flight, she says, we have time to take a taxi, to go to a restaurant, to see people; there are plenty of times when you can get infected.
The researcher recalls that in early 2020, the Delta variant easily managed to become dominant across the world, despite multiple border closures and massive flight cancellations.
The world is too interconnected, there are still a lot of people traveling and we know the virus is easily spread, says Ms. Piper.
Why prohibit access to nationals of certain countries?
Since all travelers will be tested upon their arrival in Canada, many wonder why nationals of ten African countries, namely South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Egypt , Malawi and Nigeria, cannot enter Canada.
Of this list, only South Africa and Botswana have detected cases of the Omicron variant. About twenty countries have announced that they have detected the variant on their territory.
Tuesday, in a press conference, the federal Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, tried to explain the decision of Ottawa.country. These countries have more difficulty establishing what is happening in their countries. It is not a decision based on nationality. “,” Text “:” The rate of community transmission is worrying in these 10 countries. These countries have more difficulty establishing what is happening in their countries. This is not a decision based on nationality. “}}”>The rate of community transmission is worrying in these 10 countries. These countries have more difficulty establishing what is happening in their countries. It is not a decision based on nationality.
Those countries [sur la liste] did not report the presence of the Omicron variant, although other countries have detected cases originating from these countriessays Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Dr. Joanne Liu, pediatrician at CHU Sainte-Justine and former international president of Médecins sans frontières, in an interview with CBC (New window), criticizes this approach.
We believe that we can isolate ourselves from the pandemic by closing borders and because we are vaccinated. It will not arrive.
With more than 450,000 new infections per day worldwide right now and low vaccination rates in several countries, Dr. Liu believes it was only a matter of time before a new variant does not appear.
While the variant was first detected in South Africa, there is no evidence that it actually appeared first in South Africa, says Piper.
In fact, according to the Dutch Institute for Health and Environment, the Omicron variant was circulating in the Netherlands before South Africa reported its existence to the World Health Organization (WHO) on the 24th. last november.
Ms Piper adds that a variant can emerge in any country, especially where there is a high number of infections. Remember that, for several months, Europe has been the epicenter of the pandemic.
On the other hand, it is the countries which do the most screening and sequencing that risk discovering the presence of new variants, without being the source.
It is not necessarily because these countries are less careful with the virus. On the contrary, they probably detected it quickly because of the robust screening measures in place., says Ms. Piper.
She gives the example of Hong Kong, which quickly detected the variant after South Africa. This country systematically tests all travelers who arrive on its territory and takes a very strict approach to controlling the pandemic.
South Africa also has one of the best COVID-19 surveillance systems in Africa. This country, which continues to be severely affected by the HIV epidemic, already had an infrastructure before the pandemic that allows it to do a lot of screening and sequencing.
But this is not the case in most African countries, which do not have the necessary infrastructure to do sequencing and detect new variants. In fact, less than 1% of the approximately 4 million genomes sequenced have been sequenced in Africa.
Isolating Africa is not the solution
South Africa, which has chosen to share its discovery transparently, criticizes the world for imposing restrictions on travelers from its territory so quickly.
We did this to protect our country and the world, even though there was a risk of massive discrimination.Professor Tulio de Oliveira, a South African scientist who studies this variant, said on Twitter. The world should support South Africa and Africa, and not discriminate against or isolate them, he argues.
South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor also condemned the restrictions she described as hasty and damaging to tourism and business. She urged governments that have adopted these restrictions to reconsider their decision.
Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera lamented the imposition of these measures on his country, although no case has been officially detected there to date.
Measurements should be based on science, not afrophobia, he wrote on Facebook.
” A country should not be punished for its ability to identify variants. South Africa has done us a favor by releasing this information, and now [les Africains] must pay the price. “
WHO Emergency Director Mike Ryan reiterates that countries should not make impulsive decisions based on fear, but rather based on science. For example, nothing would prevent other countries from limiting access to Canadian nationals, now that cases have been detected here too, Piper argues.
Due to the severity faced by countries that discover new variants, Ms Piper is concerned that some of them will refuse to disclose the presence of a new variant in the future for fear of being economically punished for their good. action.
We need to share this data internationally.
Finally, according to Ms. Piper, the appearance of this new variant demonstrates the extent to which vaccine inequity between low-income and high-income countries poses a risk for the entire planet.
We know that variants appear where there are high levels of transmission. This is why countries like Canada must mobilize to provide better access to vaccines to other countries.
Dr. Liu agrees.
We cannot isolate Africa indefinitely.
Remember that less than 10% of the population in Africa has received two doses of the vaccine against COVID-19, while this rate exceeds 55% in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. In low-income countries, less than 5% of the population is adequately immunized, compared to nearly 70% in high-income countries.