outh African scientists – praised internationally for first detecting the Omicron variant – have accused Western nations of ignoring early evidence that the new Covid variant was “dramatically” milder than those which drove previous waves of the pandemic.
Two of South Africa’s most prominent coronavirus experts told the BBC that Western scepticism about their work could be construed as “racist,” or, at least, a refusal “to believe the science because it came from Africa”.
“It seems like high-income countries are much more able to absorb bad news that comes from countries like South Africa,” said Prof Shabir Madhi, a vaccine expert at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.
“When we’re providing good news, all of a sudden there’s a whole lot of scepticism. I would call that racism.”
Prof Salim Karim, former head of the South African government’s Covid advisory committee and vice-president of the International Science Council agrees.
“We need to learn from each other. Our research is rigorous. Everyone was expecting the worst [about Omicron] and when they weren’t seeing it, they were questioning whether our observations were sufficiently scientifically rigorous,” he said, while acknowledging that the sheer number of new mutations in Omicron may have contributed to an abundance of scientific caution.