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South African envoy calls on Canada to support waiver on COVID-19 vaccines

South African High Commissioner Sibongiseni Dlamini-Mntambo says the emergence of Omicron is rooted in the vaccine inequity

OTTAWA — South Africa's envoy in Ottawa is calling on Canada to support a waiver on patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines as her country copes with the fallout of its discovery of the new Omicron variant.

South African High Commissioner Sibongiseni Dlamini-Mntambo criticized Canada's ban on travel from southern African countries as both shocking and knee-jerk after scientists from her country discovered the new variant of concern and dutifully reported it to the World Health Organization.

Dlamini-Mntambo tells The Canadian Press that the emergence of Omicron is rooted in the vaccine inequity that has resulted in less than one-quarter of her country being fully vaccinated, while children in the West get their first shots and some adults their third. 

South Africa and India have drafted a waiver at the World Trade Organization that calls for patents on COVID-19 vaccines that big pharmaceutical companies hold to be suspended to speed up their manufacture and distribution to less-developed countries.  

Numerous experts have long predicted that new variants would emerge in less developed countries if the pace of vaccinating their citizens lags behind richer countries.  

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is adding his voice today to those calling for a patent waiver, saying Canada should not be protecting the interests of pharmaceutical companies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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