OMICRON: THE RACISTS’ VARIANT – TIMOTHY ETSENAMHE

OMICRON: THE RACISTS’ VARIANT – TIMOTHY ETSENAMHE

                    

The truth of the matter is that we do not know where Omicron originates from. There is no identifiable ‘’patient Zero’’- a first person known to have been infected with the variant.

 

A group of South African laboratory Scientists reported the discovering of new SARS- CoV-2 virus to the World Health Organization on 24th November 2021, although the first known case of the new variant was from a specimen collected on 9th November 2021.  On the advice of the Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution(TAG-VE), the World Health Organization designated the variant B.1.1.529; asserted that it is a strain of concern and named it Omicron following her trajectory of naming the various variants after the Greek alphabets.  This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes.

WHO therefore advised countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing of cases; share genome sequences on publicly available databases; report initial cases or cluster to WHO; perform field investigations and laboratory assessment to know if Omicron has different transmission or disease characteristics, or impacts effectiveness of vaccines, public health and social measures, et cetera. It stressed that countries should continue to implement the effective public health measures to reduce COVID-19 circulation overall, using a risk analysis and science-based approach.

Sadly, as soon as Laboratory technicians at Lancet Laboratories in Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa, reported their finding the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia governments imposed travel restrictions from Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe on non-citizens and non- permanent residents of their countries. After a few days Canada and the UK added Nigeria to their red lists. This move was adjudged to be hasty, racist and xenophobic by many. To buttress this assertion, Mmusi Maimane, a South African politician opines, ‘’the Omicron response from the international community has exposed deep-seated, anti-Africa sentiment.’’  According to Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor, four Days after Omicron was discovered, on November 28, La Tribuna de Albacete, a Spanish newspaper, published a comic depicting the Omicron variants as cartoon characters with brown skin and nappy hair, packed in a boat marked with a South African flag and approaching land with a European Union flag waving on its shores. On the same day the German news paper,Die Rheinpfalz, published a lead story with the headline, ‘’The Virus from Africa is with us,’’accompanied by a photo of two Black Africans, to drive home its point. Later on a Bangkok Post headline would read, ‘’ Government Hunts for African Visitors.’’ These no doubt are horrible and despicable headlines any professional newspaper outlet should carry and publicize. Indeed Mmusi Maimane’s assertion is a truism- the international community appears to harbor‘’deep- seated, anti- Africa sentiment’’!

The truth of the matter is that we do not know where Omicron originates from. There is no identifiable ‘’patient Zero’’- a first person known to have been infected with the variant. According to John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention,asserts in one of his interviews with CNN on November 30th, ‘’ we just cannot assess where this originated. The first cases were recognized and identified in Botswana and subsequently in South Africa’’, he said, and further added, ‘’ identifying a virus, a new strain or a new variant doesn’t mean it came from there.’’ It is very hasty, unscientific and illogical to place bans on some countries because of the presence of a new variant of a virus that has been a thorn in the flesh of the world.

Many African leaders, public personalities, the United Nations and World Health Organization have criticized the ban placed on travels fromaforementioned 11 African countries by some western nations. The President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, not mincing words lambasted the paternalistic attitude of some western leaders, howdisrespectful and discriminating they tend to be in addressing issues concerning Africa. According to him, these attitude underpins the relationship between the West and Africa.The President of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, holds very strongly that travel ban these 11 African countries because of Omicron is very unfair, non-scientific and discriminatory. He tweeted ‘’ why single out African countries, singling out African countries is very unfair, non-scientific and discriminatory. Global vaccines and travel apartheid against Africa are endangering lives, hurting economies, lives, jobs and livelihoods from a pandemic Africa did not cause. End the apartheid. Respect Africa,’’ he concluded. The United Nations Secretary- General, Antonio Guterres, described this move as ‘’travel apartheid,’’ and WHO Director- General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted ‘’ it pains me that shows of racism like this still plague the challenges facing the world today. Caricaturing people crammed in a boat bringing a virus to Europe is disgusting. We can only advance, as one global community, by promoting solidarity, not stigma.’’ And of course the Nigerian government had also threatened to retaliate by banning travels from Canada, UK and other western countries.

These backlashes must have made the UK to reverse her ban in the early hours of Wednesday the 15th of December. The United Kingdom’s Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, stated that all 11 countries on her red list will be removed from the list as from 4: am on Wednesday. Justifying the reason for this move, he told the British Parliament that ‘’the spread of Omicron in the UK and the world means the travel red list is nowhere effective in stopping the incursion of the variant from abroad’’. It is a welcome development and many UK travelers in Nigeria would be happy to make their holiday plans work out. The United Kingdom had also suspended any form of visa application from Nigeria and imposed strenuous traveling measures for her Nigerian citizens and permanent residents, same with Canada. It is hoped that these measures are relinquished as time goes by so that travelers are not made to pass through cruel and traumatic conditions.

In any case, there should be no space for anything pointing to racism in the 21stcentury and not at this time that the world is plagued by the scourge of coronavirus. To use the same circumstance to vent some heinous psychological complexes on some certain people is cheeky and unacceptable. The new variant of Covid-19 should not cause panic to the extent ofmaking some countries feel inferior and having a feeling of being ostracized. The pandemic has caused a lot of psychological uneasiness enough, the best we expect from one another is solidarity. This should be externalized in making vaccines available in good time enough to  countries who are at the receiving end- African countries- not that they cannot make their own vaccines but because the world’s systems would not allow them manufacture. Nigeria for example is set to destroy about one million AstraZeneca Vaccines owing to the fact that these vaccines were supplied close to their expiration time.

 There should be measures in making vaccination compulsory to the extent of mandating people to take their jabs. There should be no rush in making policies that are anti-freedom of people. Rather, nations should encourage their scientists to go into their laboratories to continue research into discovering lastingsolutions to the predicament we have at hand in other to nip it from the bud. According to WHO, rather than postulate travel bans that would precipitate hunger and economic disaster deeper, countries should make personal precautionary measures of preventing the virus compulsory. More than ever before, the use of face mask should be reinforced; people should wash their hands regularly and maintain social distance while in crowed places and tight environments.

Omicron, the racists’ variant, should compel African leaders to look into the region. The African region has a labyrinth of untapped socio- economic, religio-cultural potentials. Africans need to develop her market which is huge and the fastest emerging market today. In fact Africa is the hive of the world’s economic activities today. In entertainment industry, African artists and showbiz moguls are becoming phenomenal globally. The content of African entertainment has become a global quest and desire. For example, Barack Obama’s best of 2019 playlist has the song, ‘’anybody’’ by the Grammy award winning music icon, Burna Boy, coming fourth in numerical arrangement. In fact another song that made the playlist is ‘’on chill’’ by wale, who has his full name as Olubowale Victor Akintimehin, born to Nigerian Immigrants parents.

Our tourism sector would be the best in the world because of our naturalendowments if we come together and invest in this sector. There are beautiful places we can vacate in during holidays in Nigeria, Ghana, Seychelles, Mauritius, South African, Egypt, Morocco, et cetera.  The need to grow our domestic market is urgent. One thing African leaders must do is to ensure that they device means to achieve the ease of doing business within the continent. Africans should not need Visas to travel around her continent, this should not in any way suggests that we give room to border porosity. Immigration service should be top-notch and visa on arrival should be awarded as it is between some African countries already.  We need to face squarely our issues of insecurity occasioned by modern day banditry ravaging many African countries. We cannot be respected when we cannot keep off criminal elements from our territories. As a continent it is good African has her singular currency. The 15- NationEconomic Community of west Africa States (ECOWAS)  has been having this intention and have proposed 2027  as the launch year of the single currency; it would be good if Africa  as a whole would have such a single currency. This would not come without challenges as many African countries are enmeshed in debt and over- burdened by economic problems. If Africa can find a way early around this the better for her. Africans have allowed the west to be the paradigm of the world for a long time. We need to rise up and make Africa great.  As I would always say, the scourge of coronavirus is ubiquitous. We must rise above petty chauvinistic and paternalistic attitude to solidarity and complementarity to combat this heinous virus that has the character of an ‘Abiku’ if the world would be safe for us all again.

 

  Rev. Fr. Timothy Etsenamhe

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Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Auchi, Edo State, Nigeria. He was ordained October 20th, 2018. He offers his daily homilies, talks and articles that bother on, faith, theology, morals and many other burning issues in religion and politics. Fr. Daniel writes poems, inspirational quotes and clips.

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