Canada has now announced bans on all flights travelling from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Malawi, and Egypt. These measures were taken by the Canadian government to mitigate the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Omicron was first detected in South Africa and Hong Kong. It was reported on November 24th, and Canada begun placing the bans November 26th. This variant has raised significant concern worldwide, but little is known about its effects thus far.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said there are serval mutations in Omicron’s character which will change the way it behaves. However, studies are undetermined if it is more severe or more transmissible. Although primary evidence does show that there is increased risk of reinfection for those who have previously had COVID-19.

The bans mean that no flights can leave the affected countries to Canada, and all foreign nationals must avoid those countries within 14 days of their arrival in Canada. Permanent residents and Canadian citizens can return home if they fly indirectly from another non-banned country.

Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

So are the bans on the African countries fair? Legally yes. The courts have ruled that the Canadian government can implement these restrictions. The government tends to show more leeway from the courts in emergency situations like this pandemic.

However, the African countries have argued it is unfair to them. I agree, all the countries on this list are African, and desperately depend on travel from the West for their economies. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the ban was “unscientific” and “discriminatory”, and he may have a point.

The WHO condemns implementing travel bans because they do not believe they are effective and it does not promote cooperation among countries during a global pandemic. Originally the Trudeau government was opposed to travel bans earlier in the pandemic. However, they have since then changed their tune.

The theory is that banning travel from these countries will slow the spread of the virus and its variants. To some degree, this is true. The less people entering Canada from higher-risk countries means a lower probability of increased transmission. Although the only places where blanket bans have been very effective are the island nations of Australia and New Zealand.

(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

The United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union have all imposed similar bans to South Africa and its neighbours. Which means that all the affected countries will suffer the financial hardships that come along with it. This is most notable in the African countries tourism industry, which often makes up a large percentage of their national GDP.

There are two major arguments against these bans. First, the bans are to slow and already ineffective against preventing Omicron from reaching Canada. This variant is already here and spreading across the country.

Second, these bans will alienate certain countries, and reduce the likelihood of cooperation. Placing bans would also be punishing countries for sharing Covid information. South Africa does have a solid contact tracing and virus visibility program, and it along with other countries, may choose not to share that vital information if it leads to them suffering financially.

The reality is the Omicron variant is already in Canada. The outbreak began in Ontario and has already reached BC and Vancouver Island, with 44 new cases detected on Dec 13th.

I do believe the bans are unfair. Not just because they are ineffective, but because of the broader message they send. The COVID virus is constantly mutating and hundreds of new variants are being discovered, some are deemed to be very concerning like Omicron or Delta. There viruses are being created largely in Global South countries where the vaccine rollout is behind or incomplete.

Should we punish nations for not having the financial or technical resources to protect themselves. No, in order to end this pandemic, countries must focus on vaccinating as many people as possible globally. Once this is done variants will no longer be created because there is no one else to infect. That is the right strategy, not flight bans, and all the experts say so.

Eliot Heiss

Eliot is a researcher, editor, and podcast host specializing in international relations and environmental politics. He graduated with an MA in Political Science from the Universität Salzburg, Austria and a BA in Political Science from the University of Victoria, Canada.

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