Journey doorways slam shut as new Covid variant triggers alarm

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(CNN) — Main journey locations together with the European Union, Japan, Australia, the US and Canada have moved to dam flights from African international locations following the invention of the Omicron variant, echoing earlier emergency responses that triggered a world freeze on journey.

The velocity with which the brand new restrictions have been put in place — simply hours after the South African well being authorities introduced the invention of the variant, meant passengers have discovered themselves stranded and not using a warning. Whereas scientists in South Africa have been the primary to establish the brand new variant, it’s unclear whether or not it emerged there or was introduced there from one other nation.

Regardless of the bans, the brand new variant has already been present in at the very least a dozen international locations. A lot of the instances detected have been in vacationers coming back from the area.

At the least 13 passengers from South Africa examined optimistic for the variant after touchdown at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on Friday. This got here after the Netherlands imposed new journey restrictions amid issues over an aggressive mutation of the novel coronavirus.

Two instances discovered within the UK have been linked to journey to southern Africa, in accordance with UK’s Well being Secretary Sajid Javid. One case of the Omicron variant was detected in a traveler who arrived from Namibia to the Czech Republic, in accordance with the Regional Hospital in Liberec.

Two German instances, recognized in Munich, have been passengers who arrived from Cape City on November 24, the Bavarian Ministry of Well being mentioned in an announcement on Saturday. One case was confirmed in an individual coming back from Malawi to Isreal, Israel’s Well being Ministry mentioned Saturday.

Two Omicron instances have been detected in Australia in passengers from southern Africa arrived in Sydney, the New South Wales Well being Ministry mentioned Sunday, whereas Italy confirmed one case of Omicron in a traveler coming from Mozambique.

The brand new variant prompted governments to slam shut their borders to folks coming from the area.

European Union states have agreed to introduce non permanent restrictions on all journey into the EU from southern Africa over the brand new coronavirus variant, the bloc mentioned Friday. The international locations involved are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, EU Fee spokesman Eric Mamer mentioned.

In the meantime, US President Joe Biden will prohibit journey from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi beginning Monday, administration officers instructed CNN.

Biden instructed the press he had “determined we will be cautious” in regards to the variant. “We do not know loads in regards to the variant besides that it’s a huge concern and appears to unfold quickly,” he mentioned.

Canada can be “banning the entry of overseas nationals… which have traveled by means of southern Africa within the final 14 days,” because of the Omicron variant, Well being Minister Jean-Yves Duclos instructed a press convention on Friday.

Anybody who has traveled by means of southern Africa within the final 14 days ought to get a Covid-19 check and quarantine till they get a adverse check consequence, mentioned Duclos. The international locations embody South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini, he mentioned.

“Canadians and everlasting residents and people with a proper of entry into Canada can be examined on arrival, [and] they may quarantine till they get the results of a adverse check,” in accordance with Duclos.

The UK, Japan, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, Turkey, Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan are additionally amongst these imposing restrictions on flights and vacationers from southern African nations in gentle of the brand new variant.

The World Well being Group introduced Friday it had designated the newly recognized variant, B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern, named Omicron.

On Friday, the Worldwide Air Transport Affiliation (IATA) warned towards journey bans, stressing such restrictions are “not a long-term resolution” in terms of managing coronavirus variants.

“Governments are responding to the dangers of the brand new coronavirus variant in emergency mode inflicting worry among the many touring public. As shortly as doable we should use the expertise of the final two years to maneuver to a coordinated data-driven strategy that finds secure alternate options to frame closures and quarantine,” mentioned IATA Director Common Willie Walsh in an announcement.

Tourism fears

The cascade of closures started late Thursday because the UK introduced it might be briefly suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini, with Well being Secretary Sajid Javid describing the variant because the “worst ever” pressure of the virus.

The transfer prompted the South African authorities to difficulty an announcement describing the UK’s resolution as “rushed,” and expressed concern in regards to the harm it might trigger to “each the tourism industries and companies of each international locations.”

Within the hours since, Japan has tightened border controls for vacationers from the identical six international locations, bringing in a 10-day quarantine starting 12 a.m. November 27.

In the meantime, Germany deliberate to declare South Africa a “virus variant space” from Friday evening, which is able to imply airways could solely enter from the nation to repatriate German residents.

Fellow EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all introduced imminent entry bans to all vacationers who’ve entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini prior to now two weeks.

KLM mentioned passengers will solely be allowed on flights from South Africa to the Netherlands in the event that they adjust to the entry restrictions imposed by the Dutch authorities.

The entry ban doesn’t apply to folks with Dutch passports, EU residents, Schengen Space residents, medical emergency workers, airline workers and folks touring beneath distinctive circumstances, resembling household emergencies.

French Well being Minister Olivier Véran mentioned the “speedy” circulation of the variant in South Africa “implies that it is most likely contagious or very contagious,” justifying France’s precautionary stance.

After Belgium reported one individual not too long ago arrived from Egypt had examined optimistic for B.1.1.529, France mentioned it was “reinforcing” management at its border with Belgium.

Singapore has opted to ban all non-residents from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe from coming into, whereas nationals and everlasting residents coming back from any of those international locations can be required to serve a 10-day keep dwelling discover (SHN). Malaysia and the Philippines have taken related steps.

Dubai will prohibit vacationers originating from or transiting from the identical seven African international locations beginning Monday till additional discover, Emirates airline mentioned, citing Dubai’s Covid-19 Command and Management Heart.

Outbound passenger flights from Dubai to the international locations listed are permitted, nonetheless, the Emirates assertion mentioned.

Saudi Arabia on Friday introduced a brief suspension of flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini, and urged each residents and residents to keep away from journey to the area till additional discover.

In the meantime, Jordan has introduced any Jordanians arriving from a number of international locations together with South Africa must go into authorities quarantine for 14 days, in accordance with a report Friday by Jordanian public broadcaster Al Mamlaka TV.

Non-Jordanians touring from South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Botswana will solely be allowed entry in the event that they spend 14 days outdoors these international locations in a 3rd nation, Al Mamlaka TV mentioned, citing the nation’s Inside Ministry. The brand new measures will go into impact Sunday.

Turkey has issued a journey ban from 5 African international locations — Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe — as of Friday evening, Turkish Well being Minister Fahrettin Koca mentioned on Twitter.

Egypt stopped direct flights to and from southern Africa following the World Well being Group announcement that the Omicron variant was designated as a “variant of concern.”

Australia has banned the entry of overseas residents who’ve traveled to the 9 south African international locations within the earlier 14 days. The federal government mentioned Australian residents can be allowed again into their dwelling nation, however must quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

Russia mentioned that beginning midnight on Sunday, it might prohibit entry into the nation for overseas residents from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Eswatini, Tanzania, and Hong Kong, in addition to for overseas residents who’ve been in these territories inside the final 10 days.

Sri Lanka has imposed journey restrictions on folks arriving from South Africa, Bostwana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini, imposing obligatory quarantine on them.

Thailand mentioned it will not permit vacationers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to enter Thailand staring December 1.

The Philippines has suspended flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique till December 15.

Morocco and Angola have been the one two African international locations to impose new restrictions on vacationers from the southern African international locations. Morocco banned folks arriving from South Africa from coming into the nation, the Overseas Ministry mentioned on Twitter.

Angola’s borders with South Africa, Botswana, Lesoto, Eswatini, Malawai, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe have been closed at midnight on Sunday and can stay shut till January 5, 2022.

The developments have led to hypothesis that strict curbs on journey introduced in at the beginning of the pandemic may very well be on their manner again.

The commerce group representing main US airways mentioned it has “many unanswered questions” in regards to the Biden administration’s journey restrictions.

“We stay in communication with the US authorities as specifics stay unknown at the moment and there are numerous unanswered questions,” Airways for America spokesman Carter Yang mentioned. “Amid this quickly evolving scenario, it’s vital that US authorities choices relating to worldwide journey restrictions and necessities be rooted in science.”

Delta Air Traces mentioned it is not going to cease service to and from South Africa. United Airways mentioned it is not going to reduce its service to Johannesburg and can restart its path to Cape City subsequent week as deliberate.

Return to restrictions?

Germany has also joined the list of countries banning flights from southern Africa.

Germany has additionally joined the record of nations banning flights from southern Africa.

Boris Roessler/image alliance/Getty Photos

“There’s positively a way for the time being that restrictions are returning,” Rory Boland, journey editor at client journal Which? instructed CNN.

“Not simply Southern Africa, Portugal has reintroduced checks for double vaccinated arrivals, and different international locations are rising restrictions. If you’re within the nation too, a number of international locations are requiring checks on high of vaccination. There are rising restrictions on boosters.

“There is a sense that journey is changing into tougher once more — and that is towards a background of a number of folks not feeling assured touring already.”

World Well being Group specialists have mentioned whereas it’s nonetheless too early to gauge what sort of affect the mutation can have, folks ought to begin taking precautions proper now to cut back the probabilities of their publicity to it.

She mentioned it might take researchers just a few weeks to grasp what it [the new variant] means, however motion was wanted within the meantime.

“Everyone that is on the market wants to grasp that the extra this virus circulates, the extra alternatives the virus has to vary, the extra mutations we are going to see,” she mentioned.

“Each single one in every of you watching has a task to play in driving transmission down, in addition to defending your self towards extreme illness and loss of life.

“So get vaccinated when you’ll be able to, be sure to obtain the complete course of your doses, and be sure to take steps to cut back your publicity and stop your self from passing that virus to another person.”

Monetary affect

The contemporary nervousness comes as one other blow for the journey business, which has struggled to rebound after being dropped at a close to standstill throughout the first waves of the pandemic.

There at the moment are fears some journey corporations could not survive if the scenario with the brand new variant worsens.

“I believe sadly so — I am not saying they may go bust within the subsequent couple weeks however the monetary scenario many are in could be very, very difficult,” mentioned Boland.

“It is not simply that bookings are down, however they’re having to repeatedly difficulty refunds. They’re having issue getting financing from banks. There are a variety of market circumstances working towards them.

“The UK had little or no sector particular help from authorities, so there’s an actual danger of additional vacation chaos and airways going bust.”

He went on to emphasize shoppers ought to all the time test restrictions in any locations they’re planning to journey earlier than reserving and ensure they’ve acceptable protection simply in case.

“It is actually vital to have cowl on your vacation firm or airline going bust. In any other case, you might find yourself shedding a whole bunch or hundreds of kilos.”

Prime picture credit score: Leon Neal/Getty Photos

CNN’s Celine Alkhaldi, Melissa Alonso, Pierre Bairin, Sharon Braithwaite, Julia Buckley, Amy Cassidy, Kaitlan Collins, Angela Dewan, Allegra Goodwin, Jomana Karadsheh, Niamh Kennedy, Mick Krever, Chris Liakos, Tim Lister, Allie Malloy, David McKenzie, Pete Muntean, Barry Neild, Robert North, Mostafa Salem, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Naomi Thomas, Greg Wallace and Xiaofei Xu contributed to this story.

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