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The EU is belatedly lifting the travel ban on southern African countries

A woman in a red jacket and black top speaks.
Reuters pool/Michel Euler
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS
By Carlos Mureithi
Published Last updated

The European Union (EU) is lifting the air travel ban on southern African countries, according to France, which currently holds the union’s presidency. The EU is following in the footsteps of the UK, US and others in reducing measures they had adopted to curb the spread of covid-19’s omicron variant.

In a tweet, France said EU member states agreed on Jan. 10 to lift the restriction to allow air travel to resume with the African countries. Travelers from southern African, it added, will now go through health measures applicable to those from third countries—non-EU members and countries whose citizens do not enjoy the EU right to free movement. According to EU requirements, people traveling from any country need to have tested negative for covid-19 in a PCR test taken at most 72 hours before arrival.

In November, countries around the world rushed to restrict travel from southern African countries after Botswana and South Africa detected the omicron variant. The EU closed its doors to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

In reaction, African leaders described the bans as discriminatory and unjust, and people were concerned that the restrictions would discourage other countries from reporting variant cases as they may be punished through travel restrictions. Science experts have questioned the effectiveness of the bans, and the World Health Organization urged countries to avoid “knee-jerk responses” to omicron’s discovery.

The UK and the US lifted their travel bans for southern Africa earlier

Some countries, including the UK and the US, lifted restrictions on travelers from southern Africa earlier than the EU.

Last month, the EU’s commissioner for justice, Belgium’s Didier Reynders, said his country was pushing to lift the travel ban, describing it as “inefficient.”

Omicron surged around the world within a few weeks, leading to millions of new cases. The lifting of the EU ban comes as the variant’s outbreak declines in South Africa.

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