The emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is the “ultimate proof” of the danger of uneven vaccination rates around the world, the head of the Red Cross said on Friday.
In an interview with AFP during a visit to Moscow, Francesco Rocca, the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, also expressed his concerns about the politicization of migrants and for the plight of civilians in Afghanistan as winter approaches.
Asked about the comprehensive approach to immunization, the head of one of the world’s largest humanitarian groups said more needed to be done to tackle growing vaccine inequalities.
“The scientific community has warned (…) on several occasions about the risks of very new variants in places where the vaccination rate is very low,” he said.
About 65% of people in high-income countries have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, but just over 7% in low-income countries, according to UN figures.
Western countries have been accused of piling up vaccines and the WHO has urged them to avoid rushing to give boosters when millions of people around the world have yet to receive a single dose.
“It’s a selfish approach coming from the western community, it’s really a blind approach,” said Rocca, an Italian lawyer and longtime Red Cross volunteer who was elected to lead the IFRC in 2017.
“It’s amazing that we still don’t realize how interconnected we are. That’s why I call the Omicron variant the ultimate proof.”
– Migrants as “weapons” –
Omicron, a heavily mutated version of the coronavirus, was first reported in South Africa on November 24 and is now in more than three dozen countries.
This has sparked a wave of travel bans, questioned the global economic recovery and led to warnings that it could cause more than half of Covid cases in Europe in the coming months.
“The only way is to vaccinate, so access for everyone, everywhere,” said Rocca, saying it was “moral imperative” to consider suspending the intellectual property rights of Covid-19 vaccines in order to ” increase production.
After a trip last month to Belarus where thousands of migrants attempting to enter the European Union were stranded at the Polish border, Rocca expressed concern that people fleeing their country were being used for purposes policies.
Critics accused Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko of luring migrants to his country to send them across the border in revenge for the sanctions.
“Of course this is nothing new, now maybe it is even more obvious that they are being used as a political tool, as a weapon,” Rocca said.
Poland has refused the passage of migrants, mainly from the Middle East. Some have returned to their countries of origin, but many remain along the border in difficult conditions.
– “Humanitarian tragedy” for the Afghans –
Western governments, Rocca said, should do more “not in terms of receiving or not receiving” migrants, but to address the reasons why they want to leave their countries.
“You cannot stop the desperation… they will find a solution to save their own lives,” he said.
“Those with more power have the responsibility to settle crises … not just to allocate resources every now and then without a political strategy.”
And as winter approaches in Afghanistan, he said aid groups like the Red Cross are deeply concerned about a “potential humanitarian tragedy.”
“We are talking about children, we are talking about old people. So this is not politics, it is about the lives of millions of people,” he said.
The United Nations has warned that around 22 million Afghans will face food shortages during the winter months as the country faces an economic crisis made worse by the Taliban takeover in August.
Washington has frozen about $ 10 billion in assets held in its reserve for Kabul, and international financial organizations have cut off Afghanistan’s access to finance.
Rocca said it was not for the Red Cross to discuss the merits of sanctions against the Taliban, but insisted they should not “punish civilians”.
“We have to deal with human beings, and the lack of political dialogue makes their life even more unbearable,” he said.
The Geneva-based IFRC supports local Red Cross and Red Crescent activities in 192 countries.
mm / jbr / har / pbr