South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has launched another furious broadside against the EU’s handling of the COVID-19, accusing them of ‘vaccine apartheid’ and arguing that the new travel bans on travellers from some African countries defied scientific logic.

Speaking at a conference in Dakar, Senegal, on Monday (6 December), Ramaphosa condemned the new restrictions imposed by the EU, UK, and United States following the discovery of the Omicron variant, first found by South African scientists.

“You ask yourself, where is science. They always said to us, base your decisions in science, but when the moment comes for them to be more scientific they are not,” he said.

The South African president also accused Western nations of having “hoarded vaccines”.

“The greed they demonstrated was disappointing, particularly when they say they are our partners. Because our lives in Africa are just as important as lives in Europe, North America and all over,” he added.

Senegalese President Mackay Sall, meanwhile, warned that the reaction of Western nations increased the risk that countries would withhold future information on COVID-19 variants, fearing similar repercussions.

European Council President Charles Michel sought to play down Ramaphosa’s remarks, describing them as “dramatic statements”.

However, the EU is keenly aware of its vulnerability to the charge of vaccine nationalism, and the anger of African leaders at the imposition of new travel restrictions threatens to derail the already delayed plans for a ‘strategic partnership’ between the two blocs to be agreed at an EU-African Union summit early next year.

On Monday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen again described the EU as “the biggest donor of COVID-19 vaccines in the world,” having donated more than 350 million doses, the majority via the international vaccine coordination body, COVAX.

Von der Leyen also promised to “step up our effort to support Africa where vaccination is lower than in other parts of the world.”

“Our aim is to ensure that 70% of the world’s population is vaccinated by the middle of next year,” she said.

Only 256 million out of 1.67 billion pledged vaccine donations, equivalent to 15%, have been delivered to date, and the recent surge in the transmission of COVID-19 in Europe, combined with the Omicron variant, has made donors nervous about giving away vaccines.

Ramaphosa has also been leading the campaign for a waiver on the intellectual property on COVID vaccines to allow South Africa and other states to manufacture their own generic vaccines to increase the pace of vaccination.

The EU continues to be one of the main opponents of a temporary IP waiver, and a World Trade Organisation meeting scheduled for last week was postponed indefinitely because of the emergence of the Omicron variant.

However, in recent weeks, the EU has given its support to BioNTech’s plans to establish vaccination production facilities in Senegal and Rwanda, as part of a commitment to develop production capacity in Africa.

There is an ongoing row between COVAX and donor countries over so-called “in country” doses, which have been delivered by vaccine manufacturers to wealthy countries but are now sitting in national warehouses or cold-storage facilities.

Donor countries want to be able to donate the doses but COVAX only accepts vaccine donations because of concerns that otherwise, doses risk not having sufficient shelf life.

A recent report by Duke University has indicated that excess supply of vaccines in the G7 and EU countries this year is 830 million doses, compared to the 650 million doses that would be required by the end of 2021 for the World Health Organisation to reach its target of 40% vaccination across the world.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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