W.H.O. Head Tedros: Joe Biden-Style Travel Bans Punish Africa ‘for Doing the Right Thing’

US President Joe Biden speaks before signing bills at the White House in Washington, DC, o

The director-general of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, discouraged countries on Tuesday from enacting travel bans on African countries that had contributed to identifying the Omicron variant of Chinese coronavirus, which the U.N. agency branded a “variant of concern” last week.

President Joe Biden banned people from entering America last week if coming from South Africa, the country that first alerted the W.H.O. to the existence of the Omicron variant, as well as several other nations in the region including Botswana, where scientists first identified an Omicron case; Zimbabwe; Namibia; and Malawi.

While a candidate for president last year, Biden called similar restrictions implemented by President Donald Trump the product of “hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.” He has not, at press time, addressed what has changed in the past year to make him reconsider that assessment.

Biden’s travel ban followed several similar provisions taken by a growing number of countries, most of them in Europe and the Middle East.

The W.H.O. congratulated Biden on his election to the presidency last year and expressed hope that the two would “work closely” in the future.

Tedros, himself from east Africa, called the Biden-style bans “blunt” in remarks on Tuesday and urged countries to reconsider. According to the U.N.’s news service, Tedros lamented that South Africa and Botswana were “being penalized by others for doing the right thing.”

Tedros also noted that the Delta variant of coronavirus, believed to have originated in India, is still the dominant iteration of the virus and threatening the lives of millions around the planet.

“We are already dealing with a highly transmissible, dangerous variant – the Delta variant, which accounts for almost all cases globally,” Tedros said.

On Wednesday, addressing a special World Health Assembly session meant to discuss the ongoing Chinese-origin pandemic, Tedros demanded of world governments, “end this pandemic.”

“Just in the past week, this virus has demonstrated that it will not simply disappear. How many more lives and livelihoods it takes is up to us,” Tedros asserted. “Ending the pandemic is not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice.”

Tedros did not mention travel restrictions, disregarding them as actions that could potentially mitigate the spread of the virus.

Instead, he urged W.H.O. member countries to “achieve our targets of vaccinating 40 percent of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70 percent by the middle of next year.”

Tedros has consistently opposed restrictions of travel throughout the pandemic, beginning with demands that countries not limit travel from Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.

In April 2020, the Australian Sky News network published a report revealing that, under Tedros’ leadership, the W.H.O. blocked medical experts from calling for travel restrictions on China.

“There were doctors there who wanted to issue travel bans and the World Health Organization blocked it,” Sky News journalist Jack Houghton reported. Despite public demands by the W.H.O. for countries to oppose travel bans, experts like American medical celebrity Anthony Fauci credited travel bans for preventing even more rapid spread of Chinese coronavirus last year.

Under Tedros, the World Health Organization also initially claimed the Chinese coronavirus was not contagious among humans. Scientists have since warned that the Chinese coronavirus, and especially its emerging variants, are highly contagious through contact with water droplets spread by an infected person through speaking or similar contact.

Tedros’ condemnation of Biden-style travel bans on African countries follows similar remarks by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres this weekend. Guterres asserted he was “deeply concerned” by the policies and urged increased vaccination rates rather than travel bans.

“I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement,” Guterres said in a statement.

“As I and others have long warned, low vaccine rates are a breeding ground for variants,” the statement read in part. “The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world.”

Travellers walk near a flight notice board displaying cancelled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021, after several countries banned flights from South Africa following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant Omicron. (PHILL MAGAKOE/AFP via Getty)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has issued the most scathing condemnation of the Biden travel ban so far, asserting in a speech on Sunday that the bans are “not informed by science” and will do nothing to stop the Omicron variant from spreading.

“These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries,” Ramaphosa said.

Several countries around the world have revealed that they have documented cases of Omicron variant infections prior to South Africa alerting the W.H.O. to its existence on November 24. The Netherlands revealed a case confirmed in a sample taken from a patient last week. Nigeria announced on Wednesday it had confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant in a sample from October.

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