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STRAIN EFFECT

How African countries are responding to the discovery of the omicron covid-19 variant

Silhouettes of people in a building. Outside it, in the background, are airplanes.
Reuters/Sumaya Hisham
O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.
By Carlos Mureithi
Published Last updated

Countries around the world are imposing travel restrictions on travel from countries in southern Africa due to the recently discovered omicron variant of covid-19.

In Africa too, countries are taking measures to prevent the spread of the new strain.

The omicron variant was initially detected in Botswana then South Africa, both southern African countries, last week. Since then, other countries including the UK, the US, and Japan have rushed to close their borders to travelers from the region, in what threatens to isolate southern Africa from the rest of the world.

Omicron is characterized by a large number of mutations, with early evidence suggesting increased risk of reinfection with the variant, compared to other strains, according to the World Health Organization.

The global health body has warned against “knee-jerk responses” to the emergence of the strain, which it designated as a “variant of concern.” And South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned the travel bans, describing them as “scientifically unjustified” and calling for their “urgent” reversals.

In Africa, some countries have also taken precautionary measures.

Morocco

On Nov. 26, Morocco announced a ban on entry for travelers from South Africa and six other African countries. Then on Nov. 28, the country’s covid-19 response committee said Morocco will suspend incoming passenger flights for two weeks, beginning today.

Angola

Angola has suspended flights to and from its neighbors Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Rwanda

Rwanda has barred direct flights to and from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It also reinstated a 24-hour quarantine for all visitors arriving from Nov. 28.

Mauritius

Mauritius has suspended commercial passenger flights from South Africa. It has also said it will deny entry entry or transit to travelers who have been in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, and Zimbabwe.

Libya

Libya has announced that travelers coming from countries where omicron has been reported should produce a negative PCR test within 48 hours, and quarantine for 10 days. It has also advised the country’s nationals not to travel to countries where the new variant has been reported.

Kenya

Kenya has said the country will screen people arriving from South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong for omicron.

Meanwhile, various public health officials and public figures have issued statements of support for South Africa and the rest of the region and commended South African scientists for reporting about the variant before any other country.

“…the unilateral travel bans now imposed on SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries by the UK, EU, US, Australia, and others are uncalled for,” Malawian president Lazarus Chakwera wrote on Facebook. “Covid measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia.”

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