The World Today for December 06, 2021


Blame Game


If only those incompetent, disease-ridden Africans had worked harder to combat the spread of Covid-19, the world might not be facing yet another threat in the form of the omicron variant. Or at least that’s the line of false and unproductive thinking that arguably has animated much of the response to this latest turn in the coronavirus pandemic.

Soon after the new variant was detected in South Africa, Britain banned flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the BBC reported. Other countries soon followed suit. At first, these moves seemed to make perfect sense. Some believe omicron is perhaps the worst variant that scientists have yet discovered.

But South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla believed the travel bans – which surely hurt his country’s shaky economy – were unjustified. “Covid-19 is a global health emergency. We must work together, not punish each other,” Phaahla told CNBC. “Witch hunts don’t benefit anyone. South Africa wants to be an honest player in the world.”


In hindsight, Phaahla was probably right. It turns out that the rush to isolate omicron in southern Africa was potentially motivated by negative biases toward the region. As CBS News reported, omicron was surely in Western Europe and elsewhere before anyone detected it anywhere.

Perhaps the world should be thanking Africa. The Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership did everyone a favor by discovering omicron, wrote the Boston Globe. Researchers at the top-notch facility are now wondering if the variant came from somewhere else rather than their backyard.

South African officials also appeared to have behaved exceedingly responsibly in reporting the variant to the World Health Organization, the New Yorker added. President Cyril Ramaphosa didn’t let politics color his judgments about it. His country was possibly punished for doing the right thing.

Of course, omicron could have incubated in Africa, where vaccination rates are very low. South Africa even rejected American offers of more vaccines. As the Washington Post explained, however, the country’s officials declined the jabs because they face distribution problems and other headaches, not a shortage of doses.

Experts in South Africa and its neighbors, meanwhile, have been begging developed countries to help. They’ve argued that the West has been hoarding vaccines and ignoring the hurdles that poor nations face in vaccinating people while forgetting that viruses don’t respect political boundaries.

“Told you so,” said Francois Venter, a University of the Witwatersrand researcher in Johannesburg, in an interview with the New York Times. “It feels like these rich countries have learned absolutely nothing in terms of support.”

The bottom line is that no one is safe until we are all safe.

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