As the first case of the Omicron variant of coronavirus was detected in the U.S. on December 1, it was also revealed that this new variant was in fact spreading in Europe days before it was ever identified in southern Africa. In Scotland, the Netherlands, and Germany, scientists have identified Omicron variant test samples from people that never traveled abroad that date back before South African scientists brought the variant into the limelight.
However, while it was South African scientists who sequenced and alerted global health authorities to the new variant through advanced screening programs, they and neighboring countries are instead facing the consequences of stigma and strict blanket travel bans. Meanwhile, the Omicron variant has now been detected in at least 28 countries, only two of which are in southern Africa, and the majority of which are in Europe and North America.
Rather than praising the efforts and honesty that scientists put forward to ensure that we can detect and screen COVID more effectively, governments from around the world were quick to place the source of the new variant in southern Africa, closing borders in ways that encourage fear and racism.
If those in power were really concerned about our public health and about stopping the spread of COVID, we would have advanced screening procedures and COVID sequencing worldwide to more quickly detect new variants like Omicron. Instead of closing borders, we would be using information internationally, like that from South Africa, to help us develop global plans and interventions that protect everyone. And rather than hoard vaccines in more wealthy countries, vaccinations and medicines would be accessible to all those who need it, slowing the spread of COVID, and its variations, globally.
The so-called world leaders have proven time and time again that they do not serve the majority of people. We cannot trust them to solve this crisis. The strength to overcome COVID, build public health systems, and keep everyone safe can only come from the solidarity of working-class and oppressed people with each other – across borders – to defend our own interests, because no one else will!