The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday expressed concern that some countries are introducing general measures against the new strain of coronavirus, which may be unnecessary and unfairly punish African countries.

“I am well aware that all countries are striving to protect their citizens from an option that we do not yet fully understand,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“But I am equally concerned that several Member States are introducing crude, general measures that are not in themselves fact-based and effective and that will only exacerbate inequalities.”

First appearing in southern Africa a week ago, the new coronavirus strain has caused global concern. As a result, a number of developed countries have imposed travel bans from the region, highlighting the mismatch between mass vaccinations in rich countries and rare vaccinations in developing countries.

In comments to the private meeting posted on his website, the head of WHO in Ethiopia called on 194 Member States to pursue “rational, proportionate” measures.

No deaths due to the omicron strain have yet been reported, although WHO has said it poses a high risk of outbreaks.

“Once again, thanks to Botswana and South Africa for being so quick to find, sequencing and reporting this option,” added Tedros. “I am deeply concerned that these countries are now being punished by others for doing the right thing.”

The Delegation of Namibia on Tuesday expressed disappointment with the countries imposing a travel ban on southern Africa.

Tanzania called for the immediate lifting of travel restrictions that hurt tourism in the region, while Canada expressed gratitude for regional transparency.

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“Transparent international cooperation, demonstrated by the South African leadership and South African academics, who quickly and openly shared information about this new option, is something that is needed now more than ever,” said Leslie Norton, Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

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