Namibia: Shangula Rages Against West's Vaccine Nationalism

21 September 2021

Minister of health and social services Kalumbi Shangula yesterday told The Namibian the fact that certain countries in the West have specific vaccination requirements is politicising the issue.

Countries in the West have instituted "vaccine nationalism", which discriminates against African and various other countries, he says.

Certain countries' policies state that people from certain countries in Africa, South America, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as India, Turkey, Jordan, Thailand, and Russia are considered 'unvaccinated' due to their specific vaccination programmes.

Regulations for the unvaccinated would therefore apply to these countries.

Meanwhile, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) 2021 currently underway in New York, in the United States (US), has seen the United Nations sharing fears that even if delegates can prove they have tested negative for Covid-19, many would be seen as unprotected due to the scarcity of vaccines in their countries.

The US said in August that with world leaders and their entourages going to New York it could turn into a Covid-19 "super-spreader event".

Vaccines such as Sputnik, Sinopharm and Sinovac are also not accepted in several countries, as CNN reported last week.

Shangula said there is no need for Namibia to remain on the red list of high-risk countries, because the local positivity rate has dropped significantly.

The United Kingdom (UK) has red-listed approximately 17 African countries, which means travellers from these countries are not allowed in the UK.

"Namibia was on the red list when we were in the third wave, but currently there is no reason to put us on the red list.

"Each country has the right to make policies and laws they think are in the interest of their country, whether reasonable or unreasonable ... This is what we call vaccine nationalism, there is politics at play, there is no doubt about it," Shangula said.

He said as more Namibians are vaccinated, restrictions would decrease.

The US requires that a person should be fully vaccinated with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or a single-dose vaccine such as Jonhson & Johnson, at least two weeks before they arrive in the country.

The UK will on 4 October only allow those fully vaccinated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines entry into the country.

These vaccines must come from a relevant public health body in Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bahrain, Brunei, Canada, Dominica, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, New Zealand, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea or Taiwan.

This excludes the South African manufactured Johnson & Johnson vaccine, as well as AstraZeneca/Covishield from India.

RUFFLING FEATHERS

The US' vaccine policy applies to UNGA 2021 as well.

The 76th session of UNGA officially kicked off last week Tuesday, however, the general debate is set to take place from today until Monday.

This policy has ruffled the feathers of Russia and Brazil, reports CNN.

President Hage Geingob is one of the 83 heads of state attending the summit, including UK prime minister Boris Johnson, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, and US president Joe Biden.

According to presidential spokesperson Alfredo Hengari, Geingob left Namibia with a delegation of nine people, including first lady Monica Geingos.

Minister of finance, Iipumbu Shiimi, and minister of international relations and cooperation Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah are part of Geingob's delegation.

Which vaccine Geingob has received has not been disclosed, and whether it would be accepted in the US is therefore not known.

The UN has made a testing and vaccination station available for unvaccinated delegates outside its headquarters.

The US has urged world leaders a month ago to rather deliver virtual addresses to the summit.

Geingob, much like Botswana's president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, and Zambia's newly elected president, Hakainde Hichilema, opted to attend UNGA in person.

The permanent US representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told CNN they are seriously concerned over the number of people flocking to New York.

"All nations should ensure that their actions do not lead to jeopardising the health and safety of the people of New York, of all of the participants here at the United Nations, and that they don't take Covid back to their home countries," Thomas-Greenfield said.

On the contrary, French president Emmanuel Macron, Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin are not expected to travel to New York.

Neither is Iran's new president, Ebrahim Raisi, who is expected to deliver a virtual address.

Hengari told The Namibian Geingob has a packed programme.

Asked why the president decided to attend the summit in person, he said: "Just as a matter of correction, the UNGA 76 Summit, which president Hage Geingob is attending, with in-person attendance of over 100 heads of state and government, is not a virtual summit, but a normal UNGA summit, a welcome development for policymakers, journalists and analysts with an interest in the world of global policy.

"In fact, the president of the host country of the United Nations will also be in attendance."

Hengari said the summit's theme is 'Building resilience through hope to recover from Covid-19, rebuild sustainability, respond to the news of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalise the United Nations'.

DELEGATION SIZE

He confirmed Geingob's delegation is composed of nine people, including the first lady.

"President Geingob always ensures that delegations are kept to the bare minimum . . .

"In New York, in addition to the statement to the UNGA General Debate, the president will participate and add Namibia's voice to several high-level meetings, the Covid-19 Summit, the UN Food Systems Summit, including the segment on ending inequality and exclusion.

"Moreover, president Geingob will also hold bilateral meetings with fellow heads of state and leaders of multilateral organisations.

"...the president will also participate in two Namibia-focused investment promotion events, with the objective to attract investors to Namibia to deal with the twin challenges of youth unemployment and poverty," Hengari said.

He said Namibia has recently embarked on a new journey of climate friendly technologies in the form of green hydrogen, and the president will participate in several platforms to showcase the potential of our country in the decarbonisation of the planet.

UK RESPONSE

The British High Commission in Namibia's communication officer, Naomi Boys, yesterday said the UK is not discriminating against African countries.

She said Namibia is currently on the UK's red list, but may be removed upon review.

Boys said the Beta variant, also detected in Namibia, poses a risk to the UK's vaccine programme, and that the AstraZeneca vaccine has not proven to be effective against this variant.

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