The travel ban and widespread restrictions on South Africa and other African countries due to the discovery of the Omicron Covid-19 variant has so far branched out to include 30 regions.
Despite calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) not to impose travel restriction sunbelt more is known about the new variant, the UK’s travel ban snowballed into a global trend.
Omicron was first reported from South Africa on 24 November, with the first known confirmed infection from a specimen collected on 9 November.
It has also been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.
Due to the number of mutations, some of which WHO said were “concerning”, the variant has been classified as a “variant of concern”.
What countries have banned SA?
In the space of less than 48 hours, the following countries have imposed travel restrictions on South Africa:
- The United Arab Emirates,
- Czech Republic,
- Hong Kong,
- Saudi Arabia,
- The UK, and
- The US.
As of today, the following airlines are suspending services:
- Air Austral,
- Air Mauritius,
- Air France,
- Air Seychelles,
- British Airways,
- Singapore Airlines,
- Turkish Airlines, and
- Virgin Atlantic.
Due to the sudden onset of the new variant, a National Coronavirus Command Council meeting scheduled for Sunday has been moved forward to Saturday.
The outcomes of the meeting will determine whether further consulting with the President’s Coordinating Council will be required.
Travellers stranded and scrambling
Several flights were delayed after passengers from all over the world descended on airports to find a flight home.
Safaris and vineyard tours were cut short by the last-minute travel restrictions, which were slammed by South African tourism and hospitality industries as being a “knee-jerk reaction” that has punished countries exercising transparency in communicating variants.
One man told AFP Omicron was likely “all over the world already”, but just happened to be found by South Africa.
At Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, 600 people onboard two planes from Johannesburg spent hours waiting to be tested for Covid-19 on Friday.
Out of the results, 61 passengers tested positive, and are now in quarantine at a nearby hotel. The results are currently being examined by Dutch health authorities to determine whether it is the Omicron variant.
Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) MD for the Middle East and Africa, Andrew Stark, said in a statement on Saturday their core focus was helping as many South African travellers who require assistance, “at any time of the day and night”.
“FCTG is working closely with travel suppliers to find the best solution for all travellers in terms of rebooking policies and refunds. We will communicate with travellers regularly to keep them updated on this fluid situation.”
Compiled by Nica Richards