Guayaquil, Ecuador, December 2, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro urged a ramping up of Covid-19 vaccination efforts and condemned the Western countries’ response over the new Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa.
“There is no international scientific report that establishes the real threat of this variant,” said Maduro in a televised broadcast on Sunday. He criticized the United States and European governments for causing a “world scandal” and issuing “political statements” towards African countries in the form of travel bans.
The Venezuelan leader asked the Presidential Commission for Covid-19 and the National Scientific Council to evaluate Omicron's impact and maintain permanent communication with international health agencies.
Meanwhile, Maduro urged authorities to reinforce biosecurity measures in ports, airports, and borders and continue vaccination efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. “I am confident that we can defend ourselves from the Omicron variant, and we will continue moving forward with the inoculation,” he stated.
The Venezuelan president likewise announced the arrival of Molnupiravir, the first oral antiviral medication shown to be highly effective and safe at mitigating Covid-19 cases. “It has 50-60 percent efficacy, and it saves lives. We have enough to treat all our infected population,” detailed Maduro about the pills developed by Merck and Ridgeback biotherapeutics.
Venezuela has faced an uphill battle to vaccinate its population with US unilateral economic sanctions hampering efforts to acquire shots and medical equipment. The country was able to kick off its inoculation campaign in February with Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm variants, later adding 5.8 million shots out of 12 million secured through the United Nations' COVAX program.
Cuba has likewise been a key ally in the fight against the pandemic. On November 22, the Caribbean island sent 1.5 million doses of its Abdala vaccine to Venezuela, bringing the total amount shipped so far to almost seven million. The doses are being used to inoculate children above three years old.
According to official data, Venezuela reports 17 cases per 100,000 people, and around 77.5 percent of the population has been vaccinated. The South American country is also looking to start applying a third booster shot in January 2022.
“Vaccination is the answer, especially now with the new Omicron variant, which reportedly has several mutations,” empathized President Maduro.
The Omicron variant was first reported by South African scientists on November 24, with the first positive sample dating back to November 9. However, the precise origin remains unknown, with the Netherlands' public health institute registering two local cases predating travelers that arrived from the African nation.
Currently, over 20 countries have registered Omicron cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled it a “variant of concern,” but scientists are still studying if it is more transmissible or dangerous than the previous mutations.
Despite the unclear origin of the Omicron variant, the Biden administration imposed travel bans against eight African nations, including South Africa. Canada and several European countries followed swiftly, threatening to shut off the continent altogether.
The Western response to African nations has drawn severe criticism from global leaders. On Wednesday, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the travel bans were an “unacceptable apartheid,” calling them “deeply unfair, punitive and ineffective.”
The UN chief went on to warn that travel restrictions jeopardize Africa's economic recovery amidst the pandemic. "It is unacceptable to have one part of the world condemned to a lockout,” emphasized Guterres.
The UN Secretary-General pointed instead at the unequal access to vaccines, with powerful countries hoarding and even surpassing the amount needed for their populations.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz from Caracas.