The widespread notion that the Omicron variant came from South Africa could lead to discrimination against the citizens of that nation, or those that visited that country in recent months, just like the discrimination that Chinese in America and elsewhere in the world were mocked and discriminated at during the outbreak of COVID-19.
Least known is that the Omicron came from an inflicted European who travelled to Africa bringing along the virus that inflicted the nation’s people, who have been suffering from centuries of racial discrimination, deprivation from opportunities and financing.
Already, so many countries have closed their borders for fear of Omicron could lead to the isolation of many cities and countries in the world to their neighbors.
Punitive and ineffective
Just recently, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that travel restrictions imposed over COVID-19 that isolate any one country or region as "not only deeply unfair and punitive - they are ineffective."
Testing is the key
Speaking to reporters in New York, Guterres said the only way to reduce the risk of transmission while allowing for travel and economic engagement was to repeatedly test travelers, "together with other appropriate and truly effective measures."
"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," Guterres said.
Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses, Reuters said.
Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are "a breeding ground for variants."
"These travel bans are not justified," said African Union Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat at the joint news conference with Guterres after the annual meeting between the United Nations and the African Union.
Persistence of racism
The persistence of racism is evident once again with the "blaming and shaming" of African nations for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, health advocate Dr. Joia Crear-Perry said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a Reuters Next panel on racial disparities in Black maternal healthcare, Crear-Perry said the medical profession in the United States needed to stop resorting to racist tropes and start truth-telling.
"Even if you look at the latest blaming and shaming that's happening around the latest Omicron variant you see the same history, the same racist trope of blaming certain places, assuming white nations and nations that have majority-white populations are going to need to be protected from places who are not," she said.
‘Same legacy, history’
"That's the same legacy and history that shows up in health and same legacy and history that we have to have truth-telling around in order for us to stop that behavior of blaming and shaming and harming people."
More than 50 countries have reportedly implemented travel measures to guard against Omicron, many of them banning travelers from southern African countries.
In guidance issued this week as reports of the Omicron variant spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) said: "Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods."
Cuba to upgrade its own vaccine vs Omicron
Cuban health authorities said that researchers in the communist-run country are upgrading its homegrown COVID vaccines to ensure protection against the new Omicron variant.
This Caribbean island nation depends on tourism for its economy, sharply eased entry requirements in mid-November following a successful inoculation drive with domestically- developed vaccines. Both infections and deaths from COVID-19 have dropped off to 2 percent or less of their peaks, according to a Reuters tally.
Vicente Verez, director of Cuba's Finlay Institute for Vaccines, said the state-run media it was clear that Cuba's Soberana vaccine would continue to provide "a certain level of protection" against Omicron, but said the extent of that protection was still uncertain.
“We decided as of last week to start developing a Soberana Plus variant having the Omicron RBD protein," Verez said, referring to the receptor-binding domain (RBD), a key part of the virus located on its "spike. We have already started it, and that protein is being built at the moment."
Some global vaccine manufacturers, including BioNTech, have expressed guarded confidence that their vaccines would offer strong protection against Omicron. Others, like Moderna, have raised the prospect of a material drop in protection.
It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, or if it causes more severe disease.
Cuba has developed an unusually large biotech sector for a country its size, partly in a bid for sovereignty given crippling U.S. sanctions. It has made vaccines available to several of its allies, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Iran.
Cuba has yet to detect the Omicron variant, but earlier this week announced it would tighten restrictions beginning Dec. 4 on passengers from certain African countries due to the new variant.
Our government’s decision to include South Africa and several other African countries in its travel ban list, though prudent is also discriminatory. We are just allowing ourselves to be swayed by the same hysteria that the western countries are experiencing now.
What we should be doing now is to improve and intensify testing (making it available for free to our citizens) so that we can detect the direction or carriers of the Omicron, if it has arrived in our shores, and properly isolate those with the virus.
There is no replacement for testing, improving our healthcare system and vigorously rolling out our vaccines—perhaps it would be to our best interest to even get into local manufacturing of vaccines—to face head-on the Omicron variant, instead of isolating our country once again from the rest of the world.