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South Africa demands compensation from UK for economic damage caused by Covid travel red list

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South Africa is calling for compensation from the UK for the economic damage the country suffered after it was placed on Britain’s Covid travel red list in November.

South Africa’s Department of International Relations is demanding compensation after the movement of people was severely restricted, saying Africa’s largest economy took a serious beating because of Britain’s decision.

Ministry spokesperson Clayson Monyele told various media in South Africa that the travel ban had caused severe economic damage and Britain should pay for that.

“Are you going to compensate us, because it has now been proven that the travel curb was wrong,” Monyele said.

He stressed many people have had to cancel their Christmas plans due to decision and did not have sufficient funds to rebook a ticket, even now that his country has been dropped from the red list.

In November, the UK rushed to impose travel bans on six African nations, including South Africa, following the emergence of the Omicron variant, adding the countries to its notorious red list, thereby applying strict quarantine requirements under government supervision at hotels close to UK airports.

Following the UK’s decision, the EU and US imposed similar restrictions within days.

UK dismisses idea of compensation

The British High Commissioner in South Africa, Antony Philipson, has reportedly acknowledged the UK’s decision to add South Africa to the red list caused economic damage.

However, he did insist the move was based on science and the decision was made in the interest of public health.

In other words, it was not personal, Philipson stressed.

Instead, countries must now focus on working together to mitigate the risks, the senior diplomat reportedly said.

“We have to stay vigilant; we have to stay engaged. I think there’s be a huge amount of work done between South Africa and the UK on the risks this variant poses to us together.”

Travel ban

In South Africa and across the continent, the UK’s red list move was widely condemned as illogical and unscientific.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, called the UK’s response “medically seen not justified.”

A GP for over three decades, and chair of the South African Medical Association, she was the first African doctor to suggest to local authorities Covid had mutated into a new strain.

Coetzee called the response from many European countries, including the UK, “just a hype.”

“Looking at the mildness of the symptoms we are seeing, currently there is no reason for panicking as we don’t see any severely ill patients.”

The WHO also condemned the UK’s response, urging countries around the world not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the Omicron variant.

In fact, the WHO fiercely lashed out at the UK as it called Britain’s “extreme.”

Dr Catherine Smallwood, Senior Emergency Officer at WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, said “these types of interventions are not sustainable. Those types of extreme measures are not our recommendations.”

The WHO’s regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries “to follow science” and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions.

“If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the international health regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognised by over 190 nations, Dr Moeti added.

In November, cases of the Omicron variant popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world and many governments rushed to close their borders even as scientists cautioned that it is not clear if the new variant is more alarming than other versions of the virus.

While investigations continue into the Omicron variant, the WHO recommends that all countries “take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures which can limit its possible spread”.

However, there are growing indications the mutation is relatively mild, with a limited number of hospitalisations and deaths so far.