(CNN) — The United States, the European Union and other major destinations have moved to block air travel from African countries following the discovery of an aggressive variant of the coronavirus (called omicron), echoing responses from previous emergencies that triggered a global travel freeze. .
Brazil, the United States, Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom are among those imposing restrictions on flights and travelers from six African countries after the new strain, known as the B.1.1.529 variant, was detected in South Africa, Botswana, and in a visitor to Hong Kong from South Africa.
While only dozens of cases have been identified so far, news of the variant, which has around twice as many mutations as the delta variant, is already sparking fear around the world.
The cascade of closures began on Thursday evening when the UK announced it would temporarily suspend flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini, the Secretary for Health Sajid Javid describing the variant as the “worst” strain in “history” of covid-19.
Biden will limit travel from eight countries starting Monday
US President Joe Biden will limit travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday as a new strain of coronavirus has emerged, administration officials told CNN. Following the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Biden administration will limit travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
Officials, who are still learning more about the variant, said the policy was implemented out of caution, as the WHO has now identified it as a variant of concern.
“Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant,” an official said.
This does not apply to US citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents. As with all international travellers, they should always test negative before travelling.
Fear of the effect on travel of the new variant
The move prompted the South African government to issue a statement describing the UK’s move as “hasty” and expressing concern about the damage it would cause “both to the tourism industries and businesses of both countries”. .
In the hours that followed, Japan tightened border controls for travelers from the same six countries, introducing a 10-day quarantine from 12 p.m. on November 27.
Meanwhile, Germany plans to declare South Africa a “viral variant zone” from Friday evening, meaning airlines will only be able to enter from the country to repatriate German citizens.
EU countries, Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have announced impending entry bans for all travelers who have entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini over the past two weeks. And there are more travel restrictions for this new variant.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran said the “rapid” circulation of the variant in South Africa “means that it is likely to be contagious or very contagious”, justifying France’s precautionary position.
Singapore has opted to bar entry to all non-residents of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, while nationals and permanent residents returning from one of these countries will need to submit a 10-day stay-at-home notice. (SHN). Malaysia has also taken similar steps.
For its part, Brazil will also close its air borders to African countries South Africa, Botswana, Swatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Zimbabwe, according to Ciro Nogueira, chief minister of the Civil House of the Presidency of the Republic of Brazil. “The order will be published tomorrow and should come into force from Monday,” he said. by Twitter.
Events have led to speculation that some of the strict travel restrictions imposed at the start of the pandemic could make a comeback with this new variant.
“There’s definitely a feeling right now that the restrictions are coming back,” said Rory Boland, travel editor at consumer magazine Which? he told CNN.
“Not just Southern Africa, Portugal has reintroduced testing for double-vaccinated arrivals, and other countries are increasing restrictions.”
“Many countries require tests in addition to vaccination. There are more and more restrictions on recalls. We have the feeling that traveling is becoming more difficult again, and this in a context where many people no longer feel safe. safe to travel.” the panorama of the trip facing the new variant.
Experts from the World Health Organization have said that while it’s still too early to assess what kind of impact the variant will have, people should start taking precautions now to reduce the risk of exposure. .
“It’s something to watch out for,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead for Covid-19, said in a video posted on Twitter.
He said it would take researchers a few weeks to figure out what that means. [la nueva variante]but in the meantime action had to be taken.
“Everyone has to understand that the more this virus circulates, the more opportunities it has to change, the mutations we will see,” he said.
“Everyone who watches has a role to play in reducing transmission as well as protecting against serious illness and death.
“So get vaccinated when you can, make sure you get the full treatment for your doses, and make sure you take steps to reduce your exposure and avoid spreading this virus to anyone else.”
Financial impact of travel restrictions by variant
While it may be too early to assess the impact of the virus, news of its outbreak and flight bans was enough to spook stock markets. European markets opened significantly lower on Friday, with Britain’s FTSE 100 down more than 3%, while Dow futures fell sharply. Travel stocks, including airlines EasyJet, Lufthansa and Air France, took a hit.
The new anxiety comes as another blow to the travel industry, which has struggled to recover after coming to a near standstill during the first waves of the pandemic.
There are now fears that some travel companies may not survive if the situation with the new variant worsens.