Ong Ye Kung: S'pore medical community 'very grateful' to South Africa for Omicron variant warning

Transparency is essential in dealing with the virus.

Sulaiman Daud | November 30, 2021, 01:55 PM

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Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that the local medical community in Singapore is very grateful to the nation of South Africa for helping to alert the world to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Speaking during a Multi Ministry Task Force press conference on Nov. 30, Ong said that the community appreciates South Africa's continued surveillance of Covid-19.

The World Health Organization recently named the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, skipping over two letters of the Greek alphabet, and designated it a variant of concern.

Flanked by Director of Medical Services Kenneth Mak, Ong said:

"South Africa has strong capabilities and know-how to sequence and detect (the) virus. They are detecting rapid spread of the Omicron variant in some parts of the country, particularly the Gauteng province. But it is likely also to be spreading elsewhere in Africa, just not detected.

So actually the medical community here is very grateful to South Africa for their continued surveillance of Covid-19, alerting the world to this emerging variant called Omicron and also a potentially dangerous variant."

Mak also highlighted that the identification of Omicron took place over a very short period of time, as compared to other variants. He said:

"The recognition of Omicron as a new viral variant was thanks to our colleagues in South Africa, who have established a very impressive and extensive testing framework in their country."

He noted that a laboratory testing samples in Gauteng province noticed some unusual results on Nov. 23, collected a week earlier.

They contacted the public health authorities, confirmed their findings over the next two days, and the government of South Africa was informed of the new development on Nov. 25.

The news was released globally on the same day.

"So from the start of the discovery of the new viral variant to the public announcements, this took place over a four day period, which was unprecedented. We're very grateful to our colleagues in South Africa for the vigilance as well as their quick and decisive actions to inform the rest of the world about the emergence of Omicron."

Travel restrictions on countries in South African region

Several countries -- including Singapore -- have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries in the region after the Omicron variant was detected and reported.

However, South Africa Health Minister Joe Phaahla criticised travel bans as "unjustified" and accused countries of finding "scapegoats" for what is a global problem.

Cases of the Omicron variant have since been detected in countries like Belgium, the UK, Israel, Australia and Canada.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has specifically praised South Africa's transparency.

Speaking to his counterpart Naledi Pandor:

"Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world."

Top image from Mediacorp.

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