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New York [US], December 2 (ANI): UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday described widespread travel bans imposed on southern African countries over threats of the Omicron variant as "unacceptable," likening the restrictions to apartheid.

"When we have now this virus everywhere, what is unacceptable is to have one part of the world that is one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy condemned to a lockout, when they were the ones that revealed the existence of a new variant that, by the way, already existed in other parts of the world, including in Europe, as we know," Guterres said during a news briefing, CNN reported.

"We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let's use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable," Guterres added.

A new variant of COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 25. As per the WHO, the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9 this year.

On November 26, the WHO named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as 'Omicron'. The WHO has classified Omicron as a 'variant of concern'.

Dozens of countries have imposed travel restrictions on the southern African nations since the mutation was discovered.

The new Omicron coronavirus variant has been confirmed in 23 countries and their number is expected to rise, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said. (ANI)

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