The new Corona mutator raises the alarm.. Will the restrictions on international travel return?


Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Major travel destinations including the European Union, the United States and Canada have moved to ban flights from African countries after the discovery of the omicron mutant, echoing previous emergency responses that led to a global travel freeze.

The speed with which the new restrictions were imposed, just hours after South African health authorities announced the discovery of the mutant, meant that travelers found themselves stranded without warning.

Hundreds of South African travelers were stranded for hours at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on Friday, with dozens ending up in hotel quarantine.

This came after the Netherlands imposed new travel restrictions amid fears of an aggressive surge of the emerging coronavirus.

An airport spokesman said two flights carrying between 400 and 600 South African passengers, one from Cape Town and the other from Johannesburg, landed late Friday morning local time in Schiphol.

Dutch health authorities later said 61 of the passengers had tested positive for the virus, although it was not determined whether they had the omicron.

The new strain was discovered so far in South Africa and Botswana, and two travelers are now subject to quarantine in Hong Kong, and one case has been reported in Belgium and Israel.

Several other European countries, including Germany and the Czech Republic, said they were investigating suspected cases.

On Friday, European Union countries agreed to impose temporary restrictions on travel to the European Union from South Africa due to the novel coronavirus mutant.

European Commission spokesman Eric Mammer said the countries concerned are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Administration officials told CNN that US President Joe Biden will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi starting Monday.

Biden told the press he had “decided we were going to be careful” about the mutant.

Canada will “ban entry to foreign nationals who have traveled through South Africa in the past 14 days” due to the omicron mutant, Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a press conference on Friday.

Duclos noted that anyone who has traveled through South Africa in the past 14 days must be tested for COVID-19 and quarantined to receive a negative test result.

These countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini, he said.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Dubai, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Japan, Brazil, Thailand and Singapore are imposing restrictions on flights and travelers from South African countries in light of the new mutation of the Corona virus.

The World Health Organization announced on Friday that it has classified the newly detected mutant, B.1.1.529, as a mutant of concern, called omicron.

While only dozens of infections have been discovered so far, the news about the new mutation of the Corona virus, which contains about twice the number of mutations as the “delta” mutation, is already raising concerns around the world.

And the International Air Transport Association warned, on Friday, of the travel ban, stressing that such restrictions “are not a long-term solution” when it comes to managing the Corona virus mutant.

“Governments are responding to the risks of the novel coronavirus mutant in an emergency setting, causing fear among the traveling public,” IATA Director-General Willie Walsh said in a statement.

“As quickly as possible, we must use the experience of the past two years to move to a coordinated, data-driven approach that looks for safe alternatives to border closures and quarantines,” Walsh added.

Tourism concerns

The string of lockdowns began late Thursday, as the United Kingdom announced it was temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini, with Health Minister Sajid Javid calling the new mutated “the worst strain ever” of the virus.

The move prompted the South African government to issue a statement calling the UK’s decision “hasty” and expressing concern about the damage it could cause “to both the tourism industries and businesses in both countries”.

In the hours that followed, Japan tightened border controls for travelers from the same six countries, imposing a 10-day quarantine starting at 12am on November 27.

Meanwhile, Germany planned to declare South Africa a “mutation zone for the virus” from Friday night, which means airlines may only enter from the country to bring back German nationals.

The sister European Union countries, Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta, announced an imminent entry ban for all travelers who entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini, during the past two weeks.

The entry ban does not apply to people with Dutch passports, EU citizens, Schengen area residents, emergency medical personnel, airline employees and people traveling in exceptional circumstances, such as family emergencies.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said the “rapid spread” of the mutation in South Africa “means that it is potentially contagious or highly contagious”, justifying France’s precautionary position.

After Belgium reported that a traveler recently arrived from Egypt had contracted the B.1.1.529 virus, France said it was “strengthening” control of its border with Belgium.

Singapore has opted to ban entry to all non-residents from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, while citizens and permanent residents returning from any of these countries will be required to submit a 10-day stay-at-home notice, Malaysia and the Philippines have taken similar steps.

And Emirates Airlines, quoting the Control and Control Center to combat the Corona virus, said that Dubai will restrict travelers coming from or transiting from the same seven African countries from Monday until further notice.

And the Emirates Airlines statement stated that passenger flights originating from Dubai to the listed countries are permitted.

On Friday, Saudi Arabia announced a temporary suspension of flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini, and urged citizens and residents to avoid traveling to the region until further notice.

Meanwhile, Jordan announced that any Jordanian who arrives in one of those countries, including South Africa, will have to submit to a government quarantine for 14 days, according to a report issued by the Kingdom of Jordan satellite channel on Friday.

According to Al-Mamlaka TV, quoting the country’s Ministry of Interior, foreign travelers from South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Botswana will not be allowed to enter, unless they spend 14 days outside those countries in a third country, and these new measures will come into effect on Sunday.

Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter that Turkey had issued travel bans from five African countries – Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe – as of Friday evening.

For its part, Egypt suspended direct flights to and from South Africa after the World Health Organization announced that a mutant had been classified as a “mutator of concern”.

Australia has banned entry to foreign nationals who have traveled to the nine South African countries in the past 14 days, and the government said Australian citizens will be allowed to return to their home country, but will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

Russia announced that, from midnight on Sunday, it will restrict entry to foreign nationals from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Eswatini, Tanzania and Hong Kong, as well as to foreign nationals who have been in these areas during the past 10 days.

The developments have led to speculation that strict travel restrictions imposed at the start of the pandemic may be on the way back.

The trade group representing major US airlines said it had “many unanswered questions” about the Biden administration’s travel restrictions.

“We remain in contact with the US government as details are still unknown at this time and there are many unanswered questions,” said Carter Yang, a spokesman for American Airlines.

“Amid this rapidly evolving situation, it is important that the US government’s decisions on international travel restrictions and requirements are informed by science,” Yang added.

Back to restrictions?

“There is a sense that travel is becoming more difficult again – against the backdrop of a lot of people who don’t feel confident about traveling already,” Rory Poland, travel editor at Whoch magazine told CNN.

WHO experts said that while it is still too early to gauge what kind of impact the mutation will have, people should start taking precautions now to reduce their chances of exposure.

It will take researchers a few weeks to understand what it means, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical officer in charge of combating Covid-19, said in a video posted on Twitter. [المتحور الجديدة], but action is required in the meantime.

“Everyone needs to understand that the more this virus spreads, the greater the chances of the virus changing, and we will see more mutations,” Kerkhove added.

She added: “Everyone has a role in reducing transmission, in addition to protecting yourself from severe illness and death, so get vaccinated when you can, make sure you get your full doses, and make sure you take steps to reduce your exposure and prevent yourself from transmitting this virus to someone else. .”


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