All 27 European member states agreed on Friday to temporarily suspend travel from seven southern African nations over the outbreak of a new coronavirus variant, according to the Slovenian EU presidency.
A committee of health experts "agreed on the need to activate the emergency break and impose temporary restriction on all travel into EU from southern Africa," the Slovenia presidency of the EU said on Twitter.
It comes after the European Commission proposed activating the so-called "emergency brake" to the bloc's shared coronavirus travel rules earlier on Friday.
Member states agreed to the measure within a matter of hours.
The countries affected reportedly include Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to diplomatic sources.
The emergence of the new B.1.1.529 coronavirus variant, which the WHO has officially named omicron, in South Africa sparked international concern, with a growing list of countries announcing travel curbs on countries in southern Africa.
South Africa denounced the imposition of travel restrictions, calling it "draconian," unscientific and contrary to WHO advice. Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a media briefing that South Africa was acting with transparency and travel bans were against the norms and standards of the WHO, which held an emergency meeting over the variant.
"Our immediate concern is the damage that this decision will cause to both the tourism industries and businesses of both countries," Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement.
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Here is an overview of which countries are implementing travel restrictions.
Germany has declared South Africa as a "virus variant area" and, as of Friday night, airlines will only be allowed to transport German nationals and permanent residents from the country, Health Minister Jens Spahn has tweeted. Even then, "14 days of quarantine will apply to everyone, including those who have been vaccinated or recovered," Spahn added.
Later on Friday, Spahn gave a press conference where he said that "some neighboring countries" of South Africa will soon be added to the list of "virus variant areas."
All of these measures were "necessary, proactive and preventive," he told reporters.
EU and European countries
The European Union has asked member states to "stop air travel" from the southern African region.
This ban should remain in place "until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant," Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a press release.
Denmark announced it had temporarily banned non-essential travel to South Africa and several other African countries. Danish health authorities said they had sequenced all COVID-19 cases and found no sign of the new mutation.
Greece has restricted travelers from the southern African region to only those with essential reasons and after negative testing. All travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zambia and Malawi will undergo a second test upon their arrival to the country and will be quarantined for 10 days, the health ministry said in a statement.
Italy said it was banning entry to those who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Eswatini in the past two weeks. Health Minister Roberto Speranza said scientists were studying the new B.1.1.529 variant, "and in the meantime, we will follow the path of maximum caution."
In France, officials have temporarily suspended flights from the region for 48 hours.
A ban in the Czech Republic begins on Saturday and applies to third country citizens who spent more than 12 hours in the southern African region in the past two weeks. Zambia also on Prague's "prohibited" list.
The United Kingdom has announced it will be suspending flights from the southern African region with immediate effect starting on Friday.
Spain said it would restrict flights from South Africa and Botswana, Health Minister Carolina Darias confirmed. "We will see about other countries, but for now it is those two," she told state broadcaster TVE.
Switzerland banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region.
Russia is introducing restrictions on travel for foreigners from some African countries as well as Hong Kong. Russia's coronavirus task force said the measures would be in place from November 28. It also said the new variant had not yet been found in Russia.
The United States will apply travel restrictions on travelers coming from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The restrictions will take effect on Monday at 12:01 a.m. Restrictions do not apply to US citizens or legal permanent residents. Most foreign nationals who have traveled to those countries in the past 14 days will not be allowed to enter the US. It may add additional countries to that list.
Canada has closed its borders to travelers from seven southern African nations. Any Canadians arriving from those countries will be required to quarantine for 14 days and take a COVID test.
Israel imposed a travel ban covering most of the African continent on Friday — expanding a ban that had previously applied to seven southern African nations. Only North African countries are exempt from the ban, while all others have been added to Israel's high-risk "red list." Israelis have been barred from traveling to the countries on the list, while foreign nationals from the affected countries are not able to enter Israel.
Returning Israelis will be required to quarantine. The country has also logged its first case of the new variant in a vaccinated traveler who arrived from Malawi. Two other people suspected of having the variant are also in quarantine.
Saudi Arabia has suspended flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini, the state news agency (SPA) reported.
Singapore and Malaysia are also restricting arrivals from the region. All non-citizens without permanent residency who have traveled to the seven southern African countries will not be allowed to enter. Those who are permitted to enter must quarantine, health officials in both countries said.
The Philippines will not allow travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique to enter the country until December 15. Effectively excluding these countries from its planned reopening to international travel.
Japan said it will require a 10-day quarantine period for travelers arriving from six countries.
From Saturday, Tokyo will ask travelers coming from South Africa and neighboring Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana to stay at designated facilities on arrival.
They will also be tested immediately after landing, as well as three other times during their 10-day quarantine, the government said.
The Health Ministry in India has issued an alert for the new variant, though, as yet, has not suspended travel from southern Africa, according to India Today.
"This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel," said Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan.
As a result, all international travelers coming to India from "at-risk" countries will be subjected to rigorous screening and testing, the ministry has instructed.
Hong Kong said it would ban non-Hong Kong residents arriving from eight southern African states from entering the territory if they had stayed in those countries within the past 21 days.
The measure, effective from Saturday, affects people arriving from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe, the government said in a statement.
jsi, kb/rs (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)