Global Travel Doors Closed As Omicron Variant Triggers Alarm

Several worldwide countries have banned flights from South Africa after the Omicron variant was detected in the region, re-imposing previous measures that unleashed a global travel freeze in 2020 and most of 2021.

Many governments implemented the additional restrictions just hours after South African health authorities reported the first new variant infection, leaving passengers stranded without warning.

However, it is unclear whether the variant originated in South Africa or was brought from another country. Also, the new variant has been found in at least a dozen nations despite travel bans.

Most cases have been among travelers returning from South Africa. On Friday, at least 13 South African passengers tested positive for the Omicron variant after landing at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam.

The news came after the Dutch government imposed new travel restrictions amid concerns about an aggressive mutation of the virus.

Also, UK health secretary Sajid Javid said health authorities had found two cases in the country, adding that both were linked to travel to southern Africa. In response, UK authorities tightened travel and mask-wearing restrictions.

The Regional Hospital in Liberec, Czech Republic, later reported an Omicron variant in a traveler who arrived from Namibia.

On Saturday, the Bavarian Ministry of Health, Germany, said that two Covid-19 cases had been identified, explaining that they were passengers who arrived from Cape Town on November 24. Later that day, Israel’s Health Ministry said a case had been confirmed in a person returning from Malawi.

Italian authorities also reported an Omicron case on a traveler from Mozambique.

The European Union bloc said member countries agreed to introduce temporary restrictions on all travel from southern Africa, citing concerns about the new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant.

EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said the affected countries were Eswatini, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Cases have also been reported outside Europe and South Africa. On Sunday, the New South Wales Ministry of Health said two Omicron cases had been found in Australia in passengers arriving from southern Africa to Sydney.

Japan, Brazil, Thailand, Turkey, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Singapore, Jordan and Bahrain have also imposed restrictions on flights and travelers from southern African countries in response to the new variant’s emergence.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it had designated the Omicron variant, also known as B.1.1.529, as a strain “of concern.”