By contrast, the delta variant, which wreaked havoc in India in April and May, was assigned the “variant of concern” tag on May 11, after infections had dramatically surged, and crossed 400,000 new cases per day in the country. It was first isolated and detected in India only in October 2020.

During its delta wave, the Indian government had strongly objected to the mutant being called the “Indian variant,” shortly before the WHO gave Greek names to the variants.

There are also several theories that suggest that China withheld information on the origins of covid-19 and that a lack of transparency delayed the efforts to contain the pandemic.

Punishing data transparency

But despite prompt data sharing, several African nations, including South Africa, now face a global shut-out, in what WHO has called a “knee-jerk” reaction. Countries like the US and UK have banned travelers from up to six countries of that continent.

Such bans have been announced even though the severity of the disease caused by omicron, its impact on vaccine-induced immunity, and its transmissibility remain unknown at the moment. “They’ve (South African officials) done the world a service and we must help them, not penalize them for this,” Barrett told AP news.

Some reports from South African provinces even suggest that omicron could lead to only mild disease in most cases.

South Africa’s department of international relations and cooperation has also strongly objected to this global isolation. “This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker. Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said in a statement on Nov. 29.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa also said today that he was “deeply disappointed” by the travel bans.

The medical community globally has said imposing such sanctions would send the wrong message to countries forthcoming with genomic data.

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