Yes, doubting PCR results from African nations is racist

Yes, it's racist to doubt PCR test results originating in African countries
5 min read
20 Dec, 2021
The ban on Egypt and South Africa by Western countries in regards to PCR Covid-test barcodes have nothing to do with health concerns, rather it is part of a historical xenophobic mistrust towards non-Western technology, writes Nyasha Bhobo.
In this photo illustration a TousAntiCovid app is seen on a smartphone with the EU flag in the background. It displays PCR and antigen tests, and also includes vaccination certificates. [Getty]

In November, whilst doing routine genetic sequencing of Covid-19 samples, South African scientists alerted the world to Omicron, a new, infectious, and rapidly mutating strain of Covid-19 that PCR tests were struggling to detect. Instead of earning global praise for world-class disease surveillance, by December, travellers and aircraft originating from Egypt, and South Africa were immediately banned from setting foot into the European Union, Canada, and other countries.

In typical Western colonial overzealous fashion, Canada by de facto banned even Canadian citizens residing in Egypt and South Africa from returning home, and another ban on tourists from Egypt and South Africa still exists to date.

Canada and the EU, specifically, announced that they did not trust the pre-boarding PCR tests conducted in both Egypt and South Africa. PCR Covid-test certificates conducted in Egypt or South Africa contain an electronic bar code to authenticate the credibility of laboratory and test results, similar to standard PCR test certificates in Europe or the United States.

Nevertheless, Canada and the EU have proclaimed that they do not trust any of it. 

"This Western digital mistrust of barcoded PCR tests from Egypt and South Africa fits an established, historical pattern – a Western xenophobic mistrust towards the Middle East and African electronic systems"

Travellers coming to their territories from Egypt and South Africa must obtain bar-coded PCR tests certificates conducted in transit in Europe or any other "credible" Western country, as Canada particularly demanded, further entrenching prejudicial views in regards to the Arab world and the African continent to new heights.

In the world-view of Canada, the US, and the EU, there is rampant corruption in Egypt and South Africa such that digitally barcoded PCR test results are forged, sold, and bought in the streets, allowing passengers infected with Covid-19 to board planes fraudulently.

This is nonsensical because, in Canada itself, there exists a wild marketplace for fake vaccine and PCR tests certificates with the criminal underworld actively positioning themselves for gain.

Furthermore, Canada's ban on Egypt and South Africa is quite a misguided position to take for two reasons.

Perspectives

First, by the time Canada banned Egypt and South Africa from sending passengers or planes to her shores, there were already hundreds of Omicron infections spreading rapidly in the UK, Poland, the US and the EU. Yet remarkably, by 4 December, according to Khaleb Abdel Gaffah, the Egyptian health minister, there was no single case of Omicron detected by Cairo. But Egypt was already shovelled under Canada´s arbitrary entry ban and Egypt Airlines flights to Toronto remain frozen.

Secondly, as it tries to save face over its racist-tinted decision, Canada recently backed down from its ban of PCR bar-coded tests from South Africa. Canada has grudgingly begun to accept the South African bar-coded PCR test certificates, meanwhile, the UK is reportedly seeking to drop its flight bans from South Africa. 

This Western digital mistrust of barcoded PCR tests from Egypt and South Africa fits an established, historical pattern – a Western xenophobic mistrust towards the Middle East and African electronic systems, whether they are in banking, online healthcare, or immigration.

In the electronic eyes of Canada, the US, EU, or others, chip-enabled passports or visas originating from Egypt or South Africa cannot be trusted, chip-enabled credit cards from Egypt are probably fraudulent, bar codes on medicines in the Middle East or African pharmacies are probably counterfeit, and so on. 

It does not matter that the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa by African scientists whilst EU and Canadian laboratories were probably asleep at the wheel. It does not matter that Egypt is located 5,900 km away from South Africa. It also does not matter that Egypt has a commendable track record of actually nabbing travellers with fake passports who try to travel through her Cairo international airport.

As reported by the New Arab in 2015, it was Greece, a member of the EU, whose airports had neither fingerprint scans nor eyes scans to identify travellers; yet there is no consideration of implementing any restrictions against Greece for her less digitized immigration products.

For people of Middle East origins like Egyptians, this electronic mistrust from the likes of Canada brings consequences of personal pain. Consider the example of Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian-Egyptian journalist, who whilst working in Egypt, was harshly jailed for 400 days only for Canada to refuse to issue him with a new passport upon release in 2015, thus making him in essence, stateless.

"The phenomenon of fake, barcoded digital products like PCR tests, is not exclusive to the Arab World or the African continent; it also exists in places like the US"

This Western xenophobic mistrust of the Middle East and African electronic spaces and products motivates lethal border, immigration, diplomatic, financial blockades that the Arab world and Africa have endured in the last 200 years, well before the advent of the internet.

Thanks to the internet's emergence, colonial Western, racist mistrust of the Middle East and Africa has simply been expanded further into an electronic mistrust of online products and spaces hailing from the Middle East and Africa.

The phenomenon of fake, barcoded digital products like PCR tests, is not exclusive to the Arab World or the African continent; it also exists in places like the US, as illustrated by the scandal of NBA players using fake PCR certificates.

Nyasha Bhobo is a journalist and human rights activist. Her work appears in Rest of World, Newsweek and Reuters.

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.