US, Brazil, Saudi Arabia latest to restrict travel from African countries as new COVID variant raises concern
A number of countries including the US, Saudi Arabia and Brazil have announced travel restrictions on southern African countries as a new variant of the coronavirus has been detected on the continent.
This comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as 'Omicron' and alarmed the siren among countries of the new variant.
US President Biden said that starting Monday, his administration will restrict air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi as a "precautionary" measure to prevent the newly discovered Omicron variant of the coronavirus from spreading into the United States.
The US administration is still gathering more information on the variant, according to Biden, who also urged Americans and people around the world to get vaccinated against the virus.
The announcement came on the heels of similar restrictions announced by other countries including Britain, Canada and France.
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla on Friday termed the countries' decision of imposing restrictions on travellers from the country amid concerns over the detection of the 'Omicron' COVID-19 variant as 'unjustified' and said there is no proof that the new COVID variant is more dangerous or resistant to vaccines.
Joe Phaahla said that the reaction of countries in Europe and other regions to the emergence of a new coronavirus strain is "unjustified," as currently there is no proof that it is more dangerous or resistant to vaccines.
"We want to assure South Africans and other people elsewhere in the world that we believe some of the reactions has actually been unjustified, referring here specifically to the reaction of countries in Europe, the UK, a number of other countries," Joe Phaahla said.
"The reaction of some countries in terms of imposing travel bans and such measures are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization," the minister added.
Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands were among those on Friday that joined the United Kingdom in restricting flights from southern Africa. The UK announced it would be temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Countries from where the travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in India are South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong, countries in Europe including the UK.
Japan has tightened border controls for travellers from the same six countries, bringing in a 10-day quarantine beginning at 12 am on November 27. Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also announced restrictions on the seven countries.
Moreover, EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all announced imminent entry bans to all travellers who've entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the past two weeks.
Meanwhile, Switzerland has banned all direct flights from the same seven countries as well, CNN reported. Germany plans to declare South Africa a "virus variant area" from Friday night, which will mean that airlines may only enter from the country to repatriate German citizens
There is a "high to very high" risk that the new Covid variant, named Omicron by the WHO on Friday, will spread in Europe, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Friday.