Jair Bolsonaro non-committal on travel curbs amid Omicron variant concerns
- The new variant was detected in six African countries so far.
- Anvisa wants Brazil to impose travel restrictions on these countries.
- Bolsonaro is not concerned by the new variant's emergence.
Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency, Anvisa, on Friday has recommended travel restrictions on six African countries where the highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus, named Omicorn by the World Health Organisation, was detected. But, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro does not appear to be fully supportive of such curbs, according to a report in Al Jazeera.
Countries across the world are suspending travel from Africa as researchers look into whether the new coronavirus mutation is vaccine-resistant. India , on Friday, resumed routine international flights but kept 14 countries, including South Africa where the strain of the new variant was first detected, on its travel blacklist. In Europe, the UK imposed bans on travellers from these six African countries.
“What madness is this?” – Bolsonaro
Bolsonaro has been widely criticised for his management of the pandemic. He refused to wear a mask in public and chose not to take vaccines and railed against lockdown. A senate commission has recently recommended the far-right president be indicted for his government’s handling of the crisis.
In Geneva, the WHO warned on Friday against travel in light of the new variant.
“What madness is this?” Bolsonaro told supporters when asked if travel would be restricted. “The virus doesn’t come in if you close the airport. It is already here,” he added.
"Brazil can't handle another lockdown. There's no use getting terrified. I'm going to take rational measures," Reuters quoted Bolsonaro as saying.
Brazil has the world’s second-highest death toll from the coronavirus, behind the United States, at more than 613,000 fatalities, according to data released by Johns Hopkins University.
“New variant could have effect on the global situation”
In its statement, Anvisa said, “Given the epidemiological impact that the new variant could have on the global situation, we recommend, as a preventive measure, the immediate suspension of all flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe.”
The new variant, B.1.1.529, has a "very unusual constellation" of mutations, which has become a cause for concern for scientists as it could breach the body’s immune system.
Brazil’s regulatory agency also recommended “the temporary suspension of the authorization to stay in Brazil for foreign travelers who have passed through these countries in the last 14 days” because “the new variant appears to have a higher transmissibility”.
Over 213 million people, 60 per cent of Brazil’s total population, are now fully vaccinated, and the average daily coronavirus death toll has fallen from more than 3,000 in April to around 200.