Episode 12

(Published on 12/08/2021)

Omicron: First View from South Africa

Imposing a travel ban on a handful of countries in Southern Africa does not reduce your chances of importing the virus… There is absolutely no scientific basis to close your borders to a handful of countries and still keep it open to others.”


In this episode of GHC3 Talks, Professor Shabir Madhi of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa discusses what we know about the Omicron variant so far. He explains that Omicron is more transmissible than Delta and more antibody evasive, but it will be a couple of weeks before we know if it is more virulent.

He goes on to talk about the vaccination challenge in South Africa. While the country has secured supply, vaccination rates have stagnated at 55% of the over-50s and 20% of younger age groups. He cites multiple barriers to vaccination including electronic registration, apathy, misinformation, and mistrust of government.

Finally, Professor Madhi highlights the damage caused to low-income countries by WHO failing to update recommendations in real time and by irrational travel bans from high-income countries.

Special Guest


  • 03:30 — Omicron – what we know, what we don’t know, and how long we’ll have to wait for answers.

  • 13:00 — Access and acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa:  Supply is secure but uptake is disappointing for a number of reasons.

  • 21:04 — South Africa’s previous harsh lockdowns achieved little and will have long-reaching negative impacts.

  • 24:16 — WHO failed to update lockdown recommendations in real time based on data. That came at a high cost for low-income countries.

  • 28:50 — The travel ban is futile. Closing your borders to a handful of countries does not reduce your risk of importing the virus.

  • 30:15 — The contempt of high-income countries for countries in the south of Africa is obvious. They congratulate the expert and transparent science but are happy to destroy economies and livelihoods.

  • 34:00 — Mutations may be occurring in the immunocompromised.

  • 36:20 — How can we move away from a colonial approach to global health?

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