Following the discovery of a new, highly mutated Covid-19 variant, B.1.1.529, international travel bans are being imposed on South Africa.
News of the variant – now named Omicron by the World Health Organisation – which has now been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and South Africa, has rattled the prospect of international travel.USA
The United States is the latest country to announce it will restrict travel for non-U.S. citizens from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday, according to senior Biden administration officials.
In addition to South Africa, other countries included in the new restrictions are Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The United Kingdom was the first to react, announcing that South African travellers would be denied entry from midday Friday.
Non-UK and Irish residents who have been in South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe or Namibia in the previous 10 days will be denied entry.
South Africa has been placed back on the UK’s restrictive red list, which enforces strict quarantine requirements for returning residents. UK and Irish residents arriving from South Africa over the weekend will be required to self-isolate at home for 10 days and take two post-arrival PCR tests.
From 04:00 on Sunday, passengers arriving in the UK will need to quarantine in a state-managed hotel, at their own cost. This is the same red list requirement which decimated South Africa’s tourism sector.
South Africa was relegated to the UK’s red list until October. South Africa’s short-lived delisting held promise for the country’s ailing tourism sector but now, with the summer season approaching, being back on the red list comes at the worst possible time.
The Association of Southern African Travel Agents (ASATA) and international relations and cooperation (DIRCO) have both criticised the UK’s “knee-jerk” reaction.
France and the Netherlands are the latest European nations to ban South African travellers.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran announced on Friday afternoon that flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries would be suspended for 48 hours, according to France24.
“Although no cases [of B.1.1.529 infection] have been detected on French territory, the principle of maximum caution must apply,” noted a statement from the French Prime Minister’s office.
Air France has not yet issued a statement concerning flight cancellations.
The Netherlands has imposed a ban on all flights departing from Southern Africa, which came into immediate effect on Friday.
“As of today 12:00 noon, there is a no-fly zone for countries in Southern Africa,” Health minister Hugo de Jonge said in a statement on social media.
“These countries are classified as very high-risk areas. This means a quarantine and double testing obligation for travellers [returning] from these countries.”
Germany has moved to declare South Africa a virus variant area on Friday, according to Reuters. The travel ban is expected to come into effect on Friday night.
This classification as a virus variant area means that travellers from South Africa will be prohibited from entering Germany. Airlines will only be able to fly Germans to Germany from South Africa. These returning citizens, even if vaccinated, will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
Italy and Austria are examples of countries to which travel for South African passport holders was already prohibited. Residents and nationals returning from South Africa will be allowed to enter Italy and Austria but will be forced to quarantine for 10 days, even if they are considered fully vaccinated.
Travellers from South Africa, as well as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, will not be permitted into the Seychelles from Saturday, the Seychelles News Agency reported.
The archipelago’s government had closed its borders to such travellers “until further notice”, it said.
Residents who had been in South Africa will be required to self-isolate, and take a PCR test.
The island group opened its borders to South Africans in mid September, after a lengthy previous ban.
Japan announced on Friday that it would move to tighten its borders following news of the B.1.1.529 variant. Exact details of this ban and when it will come into effect are, at this stage, still unknown.
Singapore announced that it too would restrict visitors with a travel history to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, or Zimbabwe within the last 14 days. This ban, which comes into effect at midnight on Saturday, includes transiting through Singapore.
Singapore citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return from South Africa, now classified as a Category IV country, but will be required to spend 10 days in quarantine.
Israel,which has restricted travel to and from South Africa at various points throughout the pandemic, announced new flight restrictions following the briefing on Omicron.
Similar to the UK, only returning Israeli residents and nationals will be allowed to return home from South Africa. They will need to quarantine for a week and take two post-arrival PCR tests.
Turkey and the UAE have also restricted SA travellers.
SA News Outlining Travel Bans