South Africa health minister calls travel bans over new COVID variant 'unjustified'

South Africa’s health minister on Friday said travel restrictions imposed by various governments on the country were “unjustified” and a “knee-jerk reaction."

“COVID-19 is a global health emergency. We must work together, not punish each other,” South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said at a media briefing, according to NBC News, as news of a COVID-19 “variant of concern” struck fear in governments and markets around the world. 

“Witch hunts don’t benefit anyone. South Africa wants to be an honest player in the world, to share health info not just of benefit to South Africans and citizens of the world,” he added, noting that travel bans contradict the typical standards of the World Health Organization (WHO). 

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Phaahla said these measures were “unjustified,” stressing that travel bans violate the norms and standards of the WHO. “The kind of knee-jerk reaction, it really doesn’t make sense,” he added. 

The United Kingdom, the European Union, the United States and Canada were all quick to place restrictions on travelers from some countries where the variant has been detected, along with neighboring nations. 

"As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries," President BidenJoe BidenBiden says he didn't 'overpromise' Finland PM pledges 'extremely tough' sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable MORE said in a statement about the travel restrictions on Friday. 

"As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises," he added. 

However, epidemiologists said it may be too late to stop the variant — which the WHO has dubbed omicron — from spreading around the world. 

Though the mutation was first detected in South Africa, it has since been found in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong. 

Stocks also plunged on Friday as fears about the new variant swelled. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 900 points, and Asian-based markets were also impacted, as Japan’s Nikkei and China’s Hang Seng index each fell more than 2 percent.