Omicron: New COVID variant pushes EU countries to restrict air travel from southern Africa

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Concerns over the new COVID-19 variant Omicron that was detected in South Africa have prompted fresh travel restrictions.

The European Commission has recommended suspending air travel from southern Africa and “other countries affected” amid concerns over the variant.

“All air travel to these countries should be suspended. They should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant and travellers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules,” said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

She called on people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Germany, Italy, and France have already announced measures to restrict air travel from the region.

Rome has banned entry on its territory to anyone who has stayed in southern Africa “during the last 14 days”, said health minister Roberto Speranza, invoking “maximum precaution” in the face of the new variant.

The countries targeted by this measure are South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini, the minister said.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday airlines coming from South Africa will only be able to transport German citizens.

Travellers will need to go into quarantine for 14 days whether they are vaccinated or not.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” he said.

The French government also announced on Friday that it was suspending arrivals from southern Africa.

The Netherlands is planning similar measures.

London said that it was banning flights from South Africa and five other southern African countries effective at noon on Friday, and that anyone who had recently arrived from those countries would be asked to take a coronavirus test.

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Scientists say is the variant is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel in travellers from southern Africa.

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