South Africa should not be "punished" for having the medical expertise that enabled its early detection of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the country's Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement Saturday. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor also expressed concerns that travel restrictions targeting South Africa and other southern African countries would negatively impact business and tourism, Reuters reports.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who chairs the South African Medical Association and was the first to alert public health authorities to Omicron's existence, told The Telegraph that the symptoms of the new strain she has observed have been "unusual but mild."
A World Health Organization spokesperson said Friday that "implementing travel measures is being cautioned against" and that countries should "apply a risk-based and scientific approach." The European Union has imposed travel bans aimed at slowing the spread of Omicron, as have the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and a host of other nations.
Cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed in the U.K., Germany, Italy, Australia, Israel, and other countries.