As chair of the South African Medical Association and a GP of 33 years’ standing, I have seen a lot over my medical career.
But nothing has prepared me for the extraordinary global reaction that met my announcement this week that I had seen a young man in my surgery who had a case of Covid that turned out to be the Omicron variant.
This version of the virus had been circulating in southern Africa for some time, having been previously identified in Botswana.
But given my public-facing role, by announcing its presence in my own patient, I unwittingly brought it to global attention.
Quite simply, I have been stunned at the response – and especially from Britain.
And let me be clear: nothing I have seen about this new variant warrants the extreme action the UK government has taken in response to it.
No one here in South Africa is known to have been hospitalised with the Omicron variant, nor is anyone here believed to have fallen seriously ill with it.
In South Africa, we’ve retained a sense of perspective. We’ve had no new regulations or talk of lockdowns because we’re waiting to see what the variant actually means.
We’ve also become accustomed here to new Covid variants emerging. So when our scientists confirmed the discovery of yet another, nobody made a huge thing of it. Many people didn’t even notice.
But after Britain heard about it, the global picture started to change.
Even as our scientists tried to point out the huge gaps in the world’s knowledge about this variant, European nations immediately and unilaterally banned travel from this part of the world.
Our government was understandably angered by this, pointing out that ‘Excellent science should be applauded, not punished.’
If, as some evidence suggests, Omicron turns out to be a fast-spreading virus with mostly mild symptoms for the majority of the people who catch it, that would be a useful step on the road to herd immunity.