U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday denounced President Joe Biden’s ban on travel from southern Africa, and similar measures hastily imposed by other nations after the Omicron coronavirus outbreak, as “travel apartheid” – in other words, racist mistreatment of Africans.
Apartheid was the racially segregated system of government in South Africa brought down in 1991 after years of worldwide activism. Guterres indicated he was fully aware of the incendiary nature of his words when he compared Biden’s policies to apartheid.
“What’s unacceptable is to have one part of the world – one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy – condemned to a lockout when they were the ones that revealed the existence of a new variant that, by the way, already existed in other parts of the world, including in Europe, as we know,” Guterres told reporters Wednesday.
“This is a very strong appeal that I launch, an appeal to common sense. We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say – travel apartheid – which I think is unacceptable,” he said.
Biden – who denounced President Donald Trump’s coronavirus-fighting travel bans as unscientific, hysterical, racist, and xenophobic during the 2020 presidential campaign – swiftly imposed his own African travel ban on Friday within hours of South African scientists identifying the new Omicron mutation of the Wuhan coronavirus.
Biden restricted travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. Angry South Africans complained their country was not the source of the outbreak, so they were being ostracized and punished for their hard work in identifying the Omicron strain.
On Tuesday, Dutch health officials confirmed the Omicron variant appears to have been spreading in Europe for a week before the first cases were identified in travelers from South Africa.
Other southern African leaders said the travel bans against their countries were founded in racism or “Afrophobia,” accusing Biden of seeking to distract from the failure of his own policies by using Africans as handy scapegoats. U.N. Secretary-General Guterres’ remarks on Wednesday echoed these criticisms.
World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerning” to see South Africa and Botswana, which also did important work on the Omicron variant, “penalized by others for doing the right thing.”
“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread of Omicron, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” he said.
It should be noted that several other African nations have imposed restrictions on travel from South Africa, Botswana, and the other southern African countries listed in the Biden ban, including Morocco, Angola, Rwanda, and Mauritius.