U.N. chief concerned about southern Africa isolation over Omicron

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U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the media at the end of his visit to mark five years since the signing of a peace deal between the FARC rebels and the Colombian government in Bogota, Colombia November 24, 2021. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

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UNITED NATIONS, Nov 29 (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries after COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed by several countries over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

"I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement," Guterres said in a statement.

The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries a very high global risk of surges, the World Health Organization warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases.

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Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses.

Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are "a breeding ground for variants."

"The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world," he said.

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Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler

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