WHO criticizes travel bans on southern African countries


Updated 8 minutes ago

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The World Health Organization on Sunday urged countries around the world not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new omicron variant.

WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions.

“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Moeti said in a statement. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.”

Moeti praised South Africa for following international health regulations and informing WHO as soon as its national laboratory identified the omicron variant.

“The speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended,” said Moeti. “WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share life-saving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of COVID-19.”

Cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world Sunday and many governments rushed to close their borders even as scientists cautioned that it’s not clear if the new variant is more alarming than other versions of the virus.

While investigations continue into the omicron variant, WHO recommends that all countries “take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures which can limit its possible spread.”

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, emphasized that there is no data yet that suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous COVID-19 variants.

“I do think it’s more contagious, when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple districts in South Africa,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday — among the most drastic of a growing raft of travel curbs being imposed as nations scrambled to slow the variant’s spread. Scientists in several places — from Hong Kong to Europe — have confirmed its presence. The Netherlands reported 13 omicron cases on Sunday, and Australia found two.

The U.S. plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday.

“With the omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” said Moeti. “COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions.”

WHO said it scaling up its support for genomic sequencing in Africa so sequencing laboratories have access to adequate human resources and testing reagents to work at full capacity. WHO also said is ready to offer additional help, reinforcing COVID-19 responses including surveillance, treatment, infection prevention and community engagement in southern African countries, it said.

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Follow all AP stories on the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.





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Thailand Bans Entry of People Travelling From Eight African Countries | World News


BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand on Saturday said it would ban entry of people travelling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new B 1.1.529 COVID-19 variant, a senior health official said.

Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, the official told a news conference.

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.

Political Cartoons on World Leaders



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Threat of new virus variant brings back travel restrictions from 8 African countries


The United States just recently started allowing international visitors into the countries, but a new COVID-19 variant already has travel restrictions back in place.

Omnicron, believed to have originated in South Africa, has prompted President Joe Biden to place travel restrictions for eight countries in southern Africa.

Dr. John Zaso, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Health, says it is a highly evolved mutation that could be much more contagious.

It’s not clear how the current vaccines work against the new strain, but Zaso says their effectiveness could go down.

“If you think of the spike protest as a key–what happens is you have many teeth on a key,” Zaso says. “Sometimes one tooth can be a little off or flat and it can still work. When you a 30-mutation spike protein, it’s a whole new key.”

Robert and Melissa Silverstein were planning a trip to Aruba, but changed their minds because of the new variant.

“It’s scary,” Robert Silverstein says. “But it’s just something we need to find out more about.”

News of the new variant also sent stocks tumbling after the holiday as scientists look to learn more about it.

Zaso says it’s not yet known if there is any increase in how sick the Omnicron makes someone, but he says it’s “probably” very contagious compared to other strains.

Travel restrictions begin on Monday. They do not apply to United States citizens or permanent residents, but traveling to that part of the world is not advised.



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US travel restrictions coming for 8 African countries due to omicron


The U.S. is going to restrict travel from South Africa and several other countries due to a troubling new COVID-19 variant. 

The White House announced the new rules, which come just weeks after the country reopened to international tourists with new entry rules, on Friday.

The new rules, which take effect Monday, apply to travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are excluded.

The policy was implemented out of an “abundance of caution” in light of the new variant and in consultation with Anthony Fauci, the president’s Chief Medical Officer, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

►What is omicron: What to know about the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa

►COVID updates: New COVID variant dubbed ‘omicron’ by WHO, classified as ‘variant of concern’

The World Health Organization on Friday declared the variant, omicron, a variant of concern. The first case was reported to WHO from South Africa on Wednesday.

Several European countries and the United Kingdom have already taken measures to restrict travel to and from Africa since the new variant came to light.

What US airlines serve Africa?

United and Delta are the only U.S. airlines offering service between the U.S. and Africa.

United Airlines began offering flights between the United States and Africa, flights that only began earlier this year.

The Chicago-based airline offers nonstop flights between Newark and Johannesburg and Washington, D.C., to Accra three times a week. It is also due to resume seasonal service to Cape Town in December.

“We’re monitoring the situation but don’t have any changes to announce at this time,” United spokeswoman Nicole Carriere said via email.

Delta offers service between Atlanta and Johannesburg and said it, too, is monitoring the situation.



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South African scientists detect new variant amid spike: COVID updates


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Thousands of people traveling for the holidays this week will first test themselves for COVID-19 without a doctor, lab or any medical oversight.

While quick home tests are hailed as a major convenience and a smart way to protect loved ones, they’ve also raised a significant challenge for public health officials. How can agencies comprehensively track cases and trends when many consumers don’t report home test results?

Federal and state health officials have worked since March 2020 to build capacity to test, report and keep tabs on COVID-19 cases. Public health officials say reporting cases is critical for spotting trends and detecting surges so hotspot communities can lessen risk and prepare hospitals for a rush of people seeking care.

But it’s unclear how often customers report results from the dozen authorized home coronavirus tests that typically deliver results in 15 minutes outside a lab or doctor’s office. And public health’s data blind spot is poised to grow larger.

Private test manufacturers already make more home antigen tests than standard laboratory tests — and the gap could nearly double next month as new home tests flood the market.

— Ken Alltucker, USA TODAY

Also in the news:

►Beginning Monday, Massachusetts hospitals will have to cut back on non-urgent scheduled procedures due to staffing shortages and longer patient stays, according to the state’s health authorities.

►The number of air travelers this week is expected to approach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels, and auto club AAA predicts48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday period.

►More than 100 children at a vaccination event in Iowa on Saturday were given the incorrect dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, according to a statement from the hospital. A MercyOne spokesperson said there are no significant health risks associated with the larger dose, just a likelihood the children will have more severe versions of the common vaccine side effects.

►France has launched a plan Thursday to give COVID-19 booster shots to all adults, as it opted against a further lockdown or curfew to help combat a worrying uptick in infections in the country.

📈Today’s numbers: The U.S. has recorded more than 48 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 775,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Global totals: More than 259 million cases and 5.1 million deaths. More than 196 million Americans — 59.1% of the population — are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

📘What we’re reading: During COVID-19, they believed home was safer than school. Now some NYC parents are accused of neglect.

Keep refreshing this page for the latest news. Want more? Sign up for USA TODAY’s Coronavirus Watch free newsletter to receive updates directly to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province, Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced Thursday.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.

South Africa has seen a dramatic rise in new infections, Phaahla said at an online press briefing.

“Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise,” he said, adding that the new variant appears to be driving the spike in cases. Scientists in South Africa are working to determine what percentage of the new cases have been caused by the new variant.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa, he said.

The WHO’s technical working group is to meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether or not to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.

— Associated Press

Just over nine out of ten federal employees have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the required deadline, the Biden administration announced Wednesday when releasing agency-by-agency vaccination rates.

Those rates were as high as 97.8% at the Agency for International Development. Workers at the Agriculture Department had the lowest rate: 86.1%.

Federal employees had until the end of Monday to get vaccinated or request a medical or religious exemption. Unlike a rule the Biden administration wants to impose on private employers, federal workers are not allowed to opt out of the vaccine requirement if they agree to weekly testing.

Workers who are not in the process of getting vaccinated or seeking an exemption will begin a “period of education and counseling, followed by additional enforcement steps,” according to the White House.

— Maureen Groppe and Michael Collins, USA TODAY

European Unions’ drug regulator approves Pfizer vaccine for young children

The European Union’s drug regulator cleared the way for children ages 5 to 11 to begin receiving the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Thursday amid a new wave of infections across the continent.

The European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee, an EU agency in charge of the evaluation and supervision of medicinal products, concluded that the benefits of vaccinating children outweigh the risks. The European committee will send its recommendation to the European Commission next, which will issue a final decision.

Germany has been facing its worst surge of COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, reporting more than 333,000 cases the week of Nov. 15, according to the World Health Organization. That’s nearly double the weekly rate reported during a prior surge in December 2020.

— Celina Tebor, USA TODAY

German Chancellor Angela Merkel labeled Thursday “a very sad day” and backed calls for more restrictions, as her country became the latest to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The national disease control agency said it recorded 351 deaths in connection with the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 100,119. In Europe, Germany is the fifth country to pass that mark, after Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France.

The longtime German leader, who is currently in office as caretaker until her successor is sworn in, warned that hundreds more deaths were already looming.

“(The deaths) correlate very clearly with the number of infections that are occurring,” she said. “We know how many people on average do not survive this disease.”

The Robert Koch Institute, a federal agency that collects data from some 400 regional health offices, said Germany set a record for daily confirmed cases — 75,961 — in the past 24-hour period. Since the start of the outbreak, Germany has had more than 5.57 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.

— Associated Press

Despite early signs that suggested the U.S. may have avoided another winter surge, COVID-19 cases are rising again.

The country reported 665,420 cases in the week ending Monday, more than a 30% increase from the pace of cases reported about a month ago, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data.

As cases rise in 39 states, U.S. Health and Human Services data show hospitals in 32 states admitted more patients in the latest week than the week before.

“Quite frankly, I’m really concerned,” said Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. “I would say we are better off than we were last year, but cases are starting to tick up and that is something that we really need to keep an eye on.”

After nearly two years of combating COVID-19, health experts thought the U.S. would have been in a better position to control the pandemic. Instead, many people remain unvaccinated and ignore mitigation measures, slowing the pace of progress and burning out health care professionals. 

— Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY

Contributing: The Associated Press



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Portuguese UN troops suspected in African smuggling scheme


LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Police in Portugal searched military installations and homes across the country on Monday following a tip-off that Portuguese troops stationed with a United Nations force in Africa have smuggled diamonds, drugs and gold back into Europe.

Soldiers are suspected of smuggling the items on military cargo planes traveling between Central African Republic and Portugal, the office of the Portuguese Armed Forces Chief of Staff said in a statement.

Hundreds of elite Portuguese troops, including paratroopers and commandos, have been stationed with the U.N. force in Central African Republic in recent years.

The Portuguese force commander on that mission was told in December 2019 about the possible involvement of Portuguese soldiers in diamond trafficking, the statement said, without providing further details of the tip-off.

After Portuguese judicial authorities were informed, an investigation began into whether troops were working as mules to smuggle diamonds, drugs and gold back home, according to the statement.

Police said in a statement that more than 300 officers took part in the operation targeting “a criminal network, with international links.”

Police conducted searches of 100 sites, mostly homes, and acted on 10 arrest warrants, the statement said without elaborating.

Following the tip-off, the military stepped up checks and inspections of military flights from Central African Republic, according to officials.

Portuguese Defense Minister João Gomes Cravinho said he informed U.N. officials about the tip-off when it was received and told them the case was being handled by the Portuguese judiciary.

The tip-off related to two Portuguese soldiers who were no longer in the Central African Republic, Gomes Cravinho told national news agency Lusa, in an interview published by Diario de Noticias.

“Everything suggests that these were activities undertaken on their own initiative by a handful of soldiers and not something systemic,” he said.



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Indian and African travelers who are fully vaccinated face quarantine in the UK, fueling accusations of discrimination


(CNN) — News that fully vaccinated travelers from India and many African countries will face mandatory quarantine in the UK, despite a relaxation of the country’s inbound travel rules, has caused an outcry and accusations of discrimination.

The UK’s revised travel advisory will take effect on October 4 and visitors from its list of “high risk” countries — including India, more than 20 African countries and most Latin American nations — will still have to quarantine in a hotel for 10 days despite being fully vaccinated.

According to the new travel guidelines, passengers from the US, EU, and 18 other territories who have received full doses of UK-approved vaccines, including formulations of approved vaccines such as the Indian-made AstraZeneca shot branded Covishield, will not have to quarantine when they arrive in the UK.
No African country was included in the UK’s green-listed countries. However, nearly half of 54 countries on the UK’s high-risk list, also known as the “red list” — comprising predominantly developing nations — are from Africa.

The backlash against the UK’s revised travel policy had initially stemmed from the reported exclusion of the Covishield shot from the list of approved coronavirus vaccines.

Covishield is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker. The African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control (ACDC) had described Covishield as the “backbone” of the COVAX initiative, a global vaccine sharing initiative for low- and middle-income countries.

The vaccine was later included in an updated guideline released by UK authorities following a strong reaction from the Indian government and the Africa CDC.

The Africa CDC had questioned why the UK, a major financier of the COVAX scheme, would decline to recognize vaccine certificates from recipients of shots donated by COVAX. “If you send us vaccines and we use those vaccines, and you say you don’t recognize people that have been immunized, it sends a very challenging message for us,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC said at a press conference last week.

“It’s a message that creates confusion within our own population and a message that doesn’t really speak to solidarity and cooperation.”

President Joe Biden has pledged to significantly increase the amount of Covid-19 vaccines it will ship to foreign nations beginning in 2022 in an effort to end the pandemic worldwide. Meanwhile the WHO says Africa needs seven times more vaccine than it currently receives to meet the target of fully vaccinating 70% of its population by September 2022. CNN’s Larry Madowo speaks to Winnie Byanyima, head of UNAIDS and under-secretary-general of the United Nations, about the vaccine inequality.

George Jobe, the executive director of Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN), told CNN the UK’s stance on vaccine certificates could hurt Africa’s already slow Covid vaccination drive.

“When we consider what we have gone through in Africa for people to get vaccinated amid all sorts of negative information and myths surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine, this news can affect the exercise to vaccinate as many people as possible because it may be misunderstood as though the vaccine being administered in Africa has no efficacy,” Jobe said. “The UK government should revisit its stand.”

The UK government acknowledges there is “frustration” with its new travel policy.

The British High Commission has issued statements in parts of Africa including Nigeria and Ghana saying: “We understand that there has been some frustration that new UK travel rules, coming into force on 4 October, will continue to require people traveling to the UK from Ghana to self-isolate despite having received two doses of recognized Covid-19 vaccines in Ghana.”

It adds that: “The UK is committed to opening up international travel and we are using our Covid-19 vaccination certification process to enable those wishing to enter the UK to do so safely.”

The UK has also faced criticism for leaving African countries on its list of high-risk destinations, even as Covid numbers were declining rapidly on the continent, according to the WHO.
Thousands of South Africans have signed a petition calling on UK authorities to remove the country from its red list, as the country exits the third wave. African countries have been significantly less affected by the pandemic compared to other parts of the world.

South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, has described remaining on the UK’s red list as “a political punishment.”

CNN’s Larry Madowo speaks with Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, about her reaction to the UK keeping South Africa on its red list for arrivals as of October 4, 2021. This means that travelers arriving from South Africa – regardless of their vaccinations status – will face onerous entry requirements, including a mandatory minimum 10-day hotel quarantine at a cost of more than $3,000.

“Keeping us on the red list sounds like a political punishment of some kind that we do not understand at all,” Pandor said in an interview with CNN. “Furthermore, I was horrified… to be informed by a South African citizen that a travel agency she was using to plan a trip to the United Kingdom said there’s also some statement from the UK that if you come from a red list country, even if you are vaccinated, they do not recognize your vaccine amount. I find this astounding,” Pandor added.

Fears over vaccine card fraud

The issue of whether the Indian variant of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be accepted for travel has confused travelers since the European Union refused to include it in the European Union Digital Covid Certificate in July.

The certificate enables fully vaccinated people to travel freely within the EU and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the AstraZeneca shot (branded Vaxzevria) which is manufactured by vaccine makers in Europe, the US, South Korea, and China.

The EMA said this version was licensed within the EU but the Indian version of the AZ vaccine produced by SII was not.

Covishield has since become accepted across parts of Europe, with more than a dozen European countries now recognizing the shot for travel.

The delay in approving the Covishield vaccine appears to be because of fears over vaccine certificate fraud. The British high commissioner to India, Alex Ellis, has said that “Covishield is not the issue,” but suggested instead that the exclusion of double-jabbed Indian travelers from the UK’s quarantine waiver appears to be because of unresolved issues on India’s vaccine certificates.

There were currently technical conversations ongoing between the builders of the Indian and UK vaccine apps with the aim of moving India and other countries on to its quarantine waiver list, Ellis said.

The UK has said in its statements that they are working “in partnership with the US and EU to recognize vaccine certificates from other countries as part of a phased review of the many Covid-19 vaccine certificates issued across the world.”

The European Union’s law enforcement agency had earlier raised alarm over the “illicit sale of false negative COVID-19 test certificates.” In a February report, Europol stated forged Covid documents were sold for up to £100 ($134) in the UK.
In July, the US Department of Justice announced that it had arrested a California doctor for running a fake Covid-19 immunization and vaccine card scheme. Security researchers at cybersecurity firm Check Point Software also reported that vaccine certificates from various countries including the US were selling on the dark web for around $200 each.

Some experts say the illicit trade in vaccine cards and digital passports is to be expected. “Not everyone has access to the vaccine; rollouts are slow in many countries, and people are tired of lockdowns and curfews,” said Michela Menting, who covers cybersecurity for ABI Research.

“If people can easily get hold of a fake passport to avoid restrictions, then they will, and an illicit market will spring up around it.”





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How To Experience The Unique Cultures Of African Tribes


It’s easy to visit Africa and yet see nothing of the local customs and cultures. Safaris tend to focus on wildlife, and many travelers don’t get close enough to see a local village or its people, let alone experience some of their cultures or customs.

The African continent has 54 countries and around 1.3 billion people. There are an estimated 3,000 tribes, speaking more than 2,000 different languages, each with its own style, look, and culture. From shaven heads to intricate braids, brightly colored clothing to intricate beaded jewelry, these are just some of the features of diverse African tribes. And just as they look different, they have different traditions, too. To come to Africa without meeting its people is to miss out on a big part of what makes this continent unique.

What Is A Tribe?

Discussing the definition of a “tribe” would doubtless keep a social anthropologist busy for days. Still, it’s commonly understood that a tribe is a community of people who share the same culture, language, traditions, and ideology. Read on to learn a little about a few of the fascinating and different tribes you could visit on your next African journey.

Tribes To Pay A Visit To

A rock painting by a San tribe-member.
EcoPrint / Shutterstock.com

San

The hunter-gatherer San people are one of the world’s oldest tribes and probably the first inhabitants of southern Africa. Today their approximately 100,000 descendants are predominantly found in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and South Africa. San people, also known as Bushmen, are recognizable for the unique clicking sound they make when speaking.

The San’s tracking and hunting skills are renowned, helping them survive the desolate and unforgiving landscapes of southern Africa’s deserts and vast salt pans. Spending some time with them provides insight into their unique culture and skills. They can show you how to make animal traps, find roots and tubers, and even how to make tobacco from zebra dung! Dressed in loincloths, with bows and arrows over slung their shoulders, they lead the way and you follow, and you can’t help but be in awe of their intimate knowledge of the land.

The San were the great artists of southern Africa and were responsible for cave and rock art found across the region, some of which dates back thousands of years. They used pigments made from minerals, ochre, eggs, and blood to paint iconic images of hunters and various animal prey.

Sadly, they are also synonymous with the plight of minorities in Southern Africa, and have been variously hunted, exploited, and pushed off their land. Today the traditional lifestyle of the San Bushmen is restricted to small pockets of land, and their survival and way of life hang in the balance.

Zulu tribe members dancing.
selim kaya photography / Shutterstock.com

Zulu

With a population of around 11 million, the Zulu are the largest tribe in South Africa and one of the largest tribes in Africa.

They are a warrior tribe, originally from East Africa, but who migrated south centuries ago, finding a home in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s Indian Ocean Coast. In the early 19th century, the Zulus, under the leadership of King Shaka, became a formidable empire with a fearsome reputation that is still acknowledged today. Shakaland, a cultural village, which has the largest kraal in Zululand, is also the birthplace of the legendary King Shaka. Here, Zulu traditions and culture are kept alive, with demonstrations of Zulu craft, building skills, pottery, brewing, dancing and music. The Zulu are particularly renowned for their beadwork, with bright colored beads woven into intricate patterns that are highly decorative, functional, and symbolic.

A Maasai woman.
Geertes / Shutterstock.com

Maasai

The Maasai are arguably the most famous of all the African tribes and live along the Great Rift Valley of Kenya and Tanzania. These homelands are close to many famous game parks, meaning you are bound to come into contact if you venture here on safari. With their red, sarong-like blankets (shuka), pierced ear lobes, and colorful ornaments, you will know when you see a Maasai tribesman! Despite the pressures of the modern world, the Maasai have fought to preserve their way of life. On any east African safari, you are bound to encounter them and some of their famous traditions, including the jumping dance (adamu), and their predilection for spitting and drinking blood.

Adamu is performed as part of initiation rites when young adults become men and eligible bachelors. Accompanied by song, pairs of men take turns to see who can jump the highest, demonstrating their prowess and fitness … he who jumps highest attracts the best bride!

While in Western traditions saliva is a pretty private, personal matter, in Maasai culture it’s considered extremely good luck to be shared! When shaking the hand of an elder, it is important to spit in one’s palm, and to ward off evil spirits, one must spit onto a newborn baby’s head.

Spitting is one thing, but how about drinking blood? Yes, the Maasai drink cow’s blood (often mixed with milk)! (For your peace of mind, let me assure you that the Maasai revere their cattle, and the letting of blood causes no lasting harm.)

Visit a Maasai village to learn their culture and traditions and visit a traditional boma to watch them herding their cattle and making traditional beaded jewelry. Some camps offer guided walks with the Maasai, which are a good opportunity to enjoy the wilderness, watch wildlife, and spend more time with these friendly people.

A woman in the Himba tribe.
Hyserb / Shutterstock.com

Himba

The unforgiving, desolate Kunene region of northwest Namibia is home to a resilient people called the Himba. This tribe of hunter-gatherers and pastoralists has successfully maintained their culture and traditional way of life, predominantly because the area they call home is so incredibly remote.

Himba women are famous for their appearance with red-tinged complexions and thick, red hair in elaborate hairstyles. Hair for Himba women signifies age and status, starting with shaved heads for young children, then braids and plaits, and graduating to a leather ornament called an Erembe for women who have had children. The unique color comes from a paste made from butter, ochre, and fat. The paste is known as otjize and is applied daily to skin and hair alike. (The Himba men do not use the paste).

Central to the Himba’s cultural beliefs is Okuruwo, the holy fire, which symbolizes their connection to their ancestors, who are believed to be in direct communication with Mukuru, the Himba god. There is a permanent fire at the center of each village to signify this connection. It is tended to by a fire-keeper from each family.

Spending time in a Himba village is a humbling experience. It gives you a chance to learn about the architecture of their houses, the structure of their community, their survival in an unforgiving landscape, and how to create beautiful and intricate jewelry from iron and shell beads.

Samburu warriors in Kenya.
Dietmar Temps / Shutterstock.com

Samburu

The Samburu tribe from north and central Kenya are pastoralists, primarily herding cattle, but also goats, sheep, and sometimes camels. The Samburu are closely related to their southern neighbors, the Maasai, but are semi-nomadic, wandering in remote, arid areas. Like their Maasai neighbors, the Samburu diet includes milk and animal blood, while eating meat is reserved for special occasions.

The word Samburu means butterfly and refers to their many colorful adornments. Men wear black or pink robes in the style of a Scottish kilt, along with headdresses, anklets, bracelets, necklaces, and long braids. Women have shaven heads and wear two blue or purple cloths, one around the waist and one around the chest, and adorn their bodies further with ochre, similar to the Himba of Namibia.

What sets the Samburu apart is their gerontocracy. Gerontocracy is a social structure where the elders make all the decisions. The oldest members of the society are the leaders and have the final say in all matters and possess the power to curse younger members of the tribe.

The Samburu are one of the few African tribes that still live according to old traditions and customs, making a unique and interesting visit.

Southern Ndebele

The Southern Ndebele are found in South Africa’s north-eastern provinces, and while they share some language with the Zulu, they have unique culture and beliefs that set them apart from other African ethnic groups.

The Ndebele believe that spells or curses cause illness. To cure illness, a sangoma (traditional healer) battles these forces using traditional herbal medicines and bone throwing. While these traditions are interesting, what truly makes the Southern Ndebele unique is their artistic style. Not just clothing and adornments, but homes, too, are decorated with striking geometric patterns filled in with color.

While traditional Ndebele designs were of muted earth-ochres, tastes have evolved, and modern Ndebele designers use a much more vibrant and vivid palette. One such famous Southern Ndebele artist is Esther Mahlangu, whose designs have appeared around the world, from the tails of British Airways jumbo jets to museums and private art collections. 

Samburu women smiling.
hecke61 / Shutterstock.com

Etiquette When Visiting An African Tribe

If you’re interested in finding out more about African tribes and experiencing their way of life, modern-day tourism makes this possible. Many safari companies can include visits to tribal villages in your itinerary. These can be anything from an hour or two visit to an overnight stay and more. If you do decide to experience local African culture in this way, it’s a good idea to follow a few basic etiquette rules:

  • Remain aware that you are a guest in someone else’s country, village, and home. Be respectful of everyone and their customs.
  • Remember, not everything you encounter will be to your taste, but that is the whole reason we travel.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what you see. Ask your guide questions or directly ask your hosts.
  • If there’s singing and dancing happening, feel free to join in!
  • Ask before taking photos. Most of the time, taking pictures is fine, even expected, but it doesn’t hurt to ask before sticking a lens in someone’s face.
  • Different cultures view time differently, so focus on the moment and the people you are with rather than the schedule. People and experiences in the present are more valuable than appointments in the future.
  • Keep smiling! If you feel uncomfortable, awkward, or embarrassed, just smile!

We live in an amazing age where global travel is relatively quick and easy. You no longer need to be an anthropologist to visit these incredible African tribes and make memories that will last a lifetime. So don’t just read about rich African cultures — come and experience them!

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CDC Details First Known Clusters of South African Variant in U.S. Without Travel Link | Health News


A study published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention details the first known U.S. clusters of infections from the coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa that don’t involve a history of international travel.

The investigation into the two linked clusters identified in Maryland earlier this year found that the variant infected 17 people – two of whom had a single shot of a two-dose coronavirus vaccine and one of whom was sick with COVID-19 just five months prior.

The variant, known as B.1.351, is believed to be able to evade immunity from prior infection or vaccination in some cases.

Cartoons on the Coronavirus

None of the 17 patients had any history of travel, meaning the virus was spreading in the community. Two people needed to be hospitalized, and one of the hospitalized patients died. The first documented infection, called the index patient, was linked to an indoor gathering where six attendees removed their masks to eat. All of the attendees later tested positive for the coronavirus or had antibodies.

“These first identified linked clusters of B.1.351 infections in the United States with no apparent link to international travel highlight the importance of expanding the scope and volume of genetic surveillance programs to identify variants, completing contact investigations for SARS-CoV-2 infections, and using universal prevention strategies, including vaccination, masking, and physical distancing, to control the spread of variants of concern,” the study said.

There are over 450 cases of the variant reported in the U.S., according to CDC data, but experts believe that to be an undercount of the real number of infections.

Leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci called the South African variant the “most problematic” of the variants at a press briefing on Tuesday. He said that despite the possibility of reduced efficacy, “get vaccinated and you will certainly have a degree of protection.”



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Cathay Pacific delays restart of South African flights


Cathay Pacific flies out of Hong Kong and has been subject to regulations imposed by the Chinese authorities. The airline suspended its flights to South Africa in 2020, as travel restrictions and plunging demand from passengers brought most international carriers to a standstill.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented challenges across the aviation industry, including a drop in travel demand,” the airline said, as quoted byTravel News.

CATHAY PACIFIC DELAYS RESTART OF SA FLIGHTS

Cathay Pacific was expected to resume flights between Hong Kong and Johannesburg at the end of March. The airline sent out a notification last week stating that its flights on the Johannesburg route had been suspended until June 30.

“Given the severity of the dynamic situation, we have suspended flight operations from Johannesburg until June 30,” the carrier’s spokesperson told Travel News.

RESTART IS SUBJECT TO REVIEW

Both Cathay Pacific and South African Airways (SAA) operated direct flights between Johannesburg and Hong Kong before the onset of national lockdowns and travel bansto reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Singapore Airlines is the only Far East airline that still operates direct flights to South Africa at this stage. However, the airline does not allow South African passengers on its flights. Only Singapore citizens and Singapore permanent residents may enter Singapore on flights departing from South Africa.  

CATHAY PACIFIC TO CONSIDER MARKET DEMANDS

There will be a need for other airlines to come back to service once there is a green light for international travel to resume. Cathay Pacific said it was ready and able to start up flights on this route was there is a change in demand.

“However, we remain agile in adjusting our operations in accordance with market demand,” the airline said.

SAA has no set date for the restart of its international flights and so Cathay Pacific would stand to benefit from being the sole carrier serving the route.    

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