Rozanne Stevens: South Africa unfairly blamed for new variant

I understand banning flights from countries that you see as a threat, but I have a duty to speak up and defend my country
Rozanne Stevens: South Africa unfairly blamed for new variant

Restrictions reintroduced: International passengers walk through the arrivals area at Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport on November 26, 2021, in London. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

I have a really big anniversary coming up. 

On December 22, I celebrate living in Ireland for the last 22 years, exactly half of my 44 years on this planet, and my whole adult life. 

Born and brought up in South Africa, I am back home visiting my family whom I haven't seen in almost two years. And I am scared.

Not of Covid, not of the new variant and not for my safety, I am scared that I will be cut off from Ireland and I won't be able to get home. 

I'm also scared we will be facing never-ending cycles of restrictions, as new variants crop up. 

As many of us have experienced during lockdown, it's one of the worst feelings in the world being forcibly separated from your family for a long period of time.

I have been cut off from my family for almost two years. 

Long before red lists, South Africa closed its borders, from March 2020 to October 2020. 

It was an extreme measure to protect citizens, and it was part of a package of lockdown restrictions that were some of the toughest in the world. 

When borders eventually opened up, my flights kept getting cancelled, a couple of weeks and sometimes a few days, before I was due to fly. 

It was traumatising, so, I decided I would give up on getting back for Christmas in 2020. 

It was a good decision — flights were again cancelled. 

Just recently, I finally got to South Africa again, which should have been a huge relief, but now there is the worry of being cut off from Ireland again. 

After 22 years, Ireland is my home, it is my refuge and my safe place. 

I understand banning flights from countries that you see as a threat, but I have a duty to speak up and defend South Africa.

This new variant was initially and unfairly labelled the South African variant. 

This was both untrue and dangerous. 

Cases have been detected in several other countries with no ties to South Africa. We don't know where 'patient zero' is, nor is it useful information at this point, when the variant has already travelled.

Banning flights is not going to leave thousands of people stranded and cause widespread panic says Rozanne Stevens.
Banning flights is not going to leave thousands of people stranded and cause widespread panic says Rozanne Stevens.

There is no reason why we keep discovering new variants, nobody is to blame. 

South Africa has some of the most sophisticated and experienced infectious disease laboratories and scientists in the world, which stem from the intensive and dedicated fight against HIV and tuberculosis. 

Because of decades of this largescale scientific work, pharmaceuticals have been developed that mean HIV is no longer a death sentence and people can live normal and healthy lives. 

I don't have the words to describe how groundbreaking these medical advances were for people, but speak to anyone who has watched partners, family members and friends die a horrible death from AIDS in the eighties and nineties, they know how important the research has been.

South Africa has also been at the forefront of the long-term work in fighting tuberculosis, which has been lifesaving as healthcare workers in Covid wards were taking the TB vaccine during the second wave in South Africa — it worked.

Therefore, when it came to isolating and decoding a new Covid variant, South African infectious disease labs excelled at it. 

They shared this information quickly and clearly — it was the right thing to do for humankind. 

Instead of a thank you, South Africa has been vilified and punished for it. We are being treated like a leper colony with devastating consequences. 

African countries need support in this pandemic, not being hung out to dry. Might other poor countries hide the discovery of new variants if these are the consequences?

Speaking as someone who has travelled internationally recently, I felt totally safe. 

With a few adjustments, international travel can be as safe as any other public activity, we know nothing is 100% safe. 

In addition to a negative PCR test, mandatory quarantine or regulated self-isolation for 10 days can be imposed to prevent infection and transmission. Affordable quarantine really needs to be addressed, as current costs are not sustainable.

I believe a knee-jerk reaction to the new variant was brought on by fear, exhaustion from this never-ending saga, and the fact we are so close to Christmas. 

Everyone wants a "normal" festive season for the sake of families, the economy and our mental health.

Banning flights is not going to achieve this, as you leave thousands of people stranded and cause widespread panic.

This virus knows no borders or politics, and neither should science, medical care and aid.

Like climate action, I would love to see every country share their expertise and fortify vulnerable countries when they need help.

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