Omicron COVID variant: Countries place travel restrictions on Africa

South Africa said that imposing restrictions on travelers from the country because of a newly identified COVID-19 variant Omicron was unjustified.

 People wait in front of an "Appointment Desk" for quarantine and coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test appointments inside Schiphol Airport, after Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19, in Amsterdam, Netherlands (photo credit: REUTERS/EVA PLEVIER)
People wait in front of an "Appointment Desk" for quarantine and coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test appointments inside Schiphol Airport, after Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19, in Amsterdam, Netherlands
(photo credit: REUTERS/EVA PLEVIER)

A number of countries imposed restrictions on travelers from multiple African countries Saturday, after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant named Omicron triggered global alarm on Friday and countries rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa and stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic suffered their biggest falls in more than a year.

On Saturday, Australia said it would ban non-citizens who have been in nine southern African countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from there.

Thailand said on Saturday it would ban the entry of people traveling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will be prohibited, senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference. Thailand will not allow travelers from these countries to register to travel to Thailand starting on Saturday, he said.

Oman has suspended entry to travelers from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini starting from November 28 due to the spread of a new variant, the country's state news agency said in a tweet on Saturday.

Sri Lanka said on Saturday it was barring travelers from six Southern African countries on Saturday over concerns about the new variant.

From Monday, travelers will not be allowed into the country from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, Colombo said in a statement.

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. (credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference on the situation of the coronavirus (COVID-2019), in Geneva, Switzerland, February 28, 2020. (credit: REUTERS/DENIS BALIBOUSE)

Qatar Airways said on Saturday it has banned entry to travelers from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique due to the spread of a the new variant.

Japan will tighten border controls for the southern African nations of Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia, requiring a 10-day quarantine for any entrants, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday, after a new coronavirus variant was detected in South Africa.

Japan also tightened border controls Friday. Those arriving from South Africa, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho will be required to undergo a 10-day quarantine period in government-determined accommodation, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

Brazil will shut its borders to travelers arriving from six southern African countries, the chief of staff to President Jair Bolsonaro said on Friday, the latest in a slew of major nations to announce restrictions meant to combat the newly identified Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

"We're going to protect Brazilians in this new phase of the pandemic in this country. The official notice will be published tomorrow and will be going into effect on Monday," Chief of Staff Ciro Nogueira wrote in a Twitter post.

The six countries are: South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, he said in another Twitter post.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled on Saturday new measures to try to stop the spread of a new coronavirus variant called Omicron, saying all arrivals would have to take a test and it was time to step up booster jabs.

"We will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result," Johnson told a news conference.

He said those who had come into contact with people testing positive for a suspected case of Omicron would have to self-isolate for 10 days and that the government would tighten up the rules on wearing face coverings. 

On Friday, Britain said the variant was the most significant found yet and banned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia. European Union states also agreed to suspend travel to southern Africa, the presidency of the EU said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Department on Saturday advised against travel to eight southern African countries after the White House announced new travel restrictions in response to a new COVID-19 variant.

The CDC raised its travel recommendation to "Level Four: Very High" for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana while the State Department issued parallel "Do Not Travel" advisories Saturday. On Monday, the CDC had lowered its COVID-19 travel advisory for South Africa to "Level 1: Low."

Canada is closing its borders to foreign travelers who have recently been to seven southern African nations to help stop the spread of the newly identified variant of COVID-19, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters on Friday.

South Africa said on Friday that imposing restrictions on travelers from the country because of a newly identified COVID-19 variant was unjustified.

Epidemiologists warned travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally. The new mutations were first discovered in South Africa and have since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.