THE world is scrambling to contain the new Omicron Covid variant as cases begin to appear outside region where it was first detected.
A host of countries have now imposed travel restrictions on southern African countries amid fears about the virulence of the new strain.
Scientists are racing to determine the threat posed by the heavily mutated strain, which is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant, and whether it can evade existing vaccines.
But the countries who have been subject to the ban have slammed it as unfair and said it was the result of the developed “hoarding” vaccines.
Some 61 passengers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport from South Africa have tested positive for Covid, though it’s not been confirmed which variant.
The UK has now joined Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong in confirming cases, while suspected cases are being reported Germany and the Czech Republic.
On Friday, Britain placed South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini to its red travel list and on Saturday added Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.
Anyone arriving from those countries will have to take a PCR test and quarantine in a hotel for 1o days.
President Joe Biden announced on Friday that United States will bar entry to most travellers from eight southern African countries.
The European Union has proposed halting travel from southern Africa to apply what Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called an “emergency brake” to limit the spread of the variant.
“All air travel to these countries should be suspended,” she said.
“They should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant.”
Australia announced on Saturday that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique would be suspended for 14 days.
Non-Australians who have been in those countries in the past two weeks are now banned from entering Australia.
Canada is barring all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini or Mozambique in the past fortnight.
Travellers from much of southern Africa arriving in Japan will need to quarantine for 10 days and take a total of four tests during that time.
India ordered more rigorous screening and testing for travellers arriving from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong.
South Africa has slammed the curbs as “draconian” and on Saturday said the flight bans were “akin to punishing South Africa for its ability to detect new variants quicker”.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
An African Union official told the BBC developed countries were to blame for the emergence of the variant.
“What is going on right now is inevitable, it’s a result of the world’s failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner,” said AU vaccine delivery alliance co-chair Ayoade Alakija.
“It is as a result of hoarding by high-income countries of the world, and quite frankly it is unacceptable.”
Health chiefs say it’s overwhelmingly likely that “very high risk” Omicron is in Germany already after a traveller tested positive for a mutated form of the deadly bug.
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