Posted: Saturday, November 27, 2021. 11:50 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: As of Monday, the United States and Canada are restricting flights to South Africa and seven neighboring southern African countries in a bid to contain the new Omicron variant of coronavirus (COVID-19), joining the European Union and the United Kingdom.
The BBC reports that from Monday, only U.S. citizens and residents may travel to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. Flights from these nations will be blocked by the U.S., EU, UK, and Canada, which will also ban citizens who have traveled to these countries in the last 14 days.
In a statement, U.S. President Joe Biden called the move a “precautionary measure” taken until more is known about the variant.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new variant to be “of concern”, naming it Omicron.
The Omicron variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on 24 November and has since been identified in other countries.
South Africa’s health ministry has criticized the rush to impose new travel restrictions, calling them “draconian”, and contrary to the WHO’s own guidance.
Scientists say they still have much to learn about the virus’s new mutations, and the WHO has said it will take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, as experts work to determine how transmissible it is.
The WHO on Friday said preliminary evidence suggested the new variant carried a higher risk of reinfection than other variants.
Scientists have said it is the most heavily mutated version yet, which means Covid vaccines, which were designed using the original strain from Wuhan, China, may not be as effective.
The WHO says so far fewer than 100 sample sequences have been reported. Cases have mainly been confirmed in South Africa, but have also been detected in Hong Kong, Israel, Botswana, and Belgium.
Most of the cases in South Africa have been from its most populated province, Gauteng, of which Johannesburg is the capital city.
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