Delta variant and international travel

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Travel doors slam shut as new Covid variant triggers alarm, stranding hundreds of passengers

Major travel destinations including the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United States and Canada have moved to block flights from African countries following the discovery of the Omicron variant, echoing previous emergency responses that triggered a global freeze on travel.

The speed with which the new restrictions were put in place — just hours after the South African health authorities announced the discovery of the variant, meant passengers have found themselves stranded without a warning. While scientists in South Africa were the first to identify the new variant, it is unclear whether it emerged there or was brought there from another country.

Despite the bans, the new variant has already been found in at least a dozen countries. Most of the cases detected have been in travelers returning from the region.

At least 13 passengers from South Africa tested positive for the variant after landing at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on Friday. This came after the Netherlands imposed new travel restrictions amid concerns over an aggressive mutation of the novel coronavirus.

Two cases found in the UK were linked to travel to southern Africa, according to UK’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid. One case of the Omicron variant was detected in a traveler who arrived from Namibia to the Czech Republic, according to the Regional Hospital in Liberec.

Two German cases, identified in Munich, were passengers who arrived from Cape Town on November 24, the Bavarian Ministry of Health said in a statement on Saturday. One case was confirmed in a person returning from Malawi to Isreal, Israel’s Health Ministry said Saturday.

Two Omicron cases have been detected in Australia in passengers from southern Africa arrived in Sydney, the New South Wales Health Ministry said Sunday, while Italy confirmed one case of Omicron in a traveler coming from Mozambique.
The new variant prompted governments to slam shut their borders to people coming from the region.

European Union states have agreed to introduce temporary restrictions on all travel into the EU from southern Africa over the new coronavirus variant, the bloc said Friday. The countries concerned are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, EU Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi starting Monday, administration officials told CNN.

Biden told the press he had “decided we’re going to be cautious” about the variant. “We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly,” he said.
Canada will be “banning the entry of foreign nationals… that have traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days,” due to the Omicron variant, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a press conference on Friday.

Anyone who has traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days should get a Covid-19 test and quarantine until they get a negative test result, said Duclos. The countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini, he said.

“Canadians and permanent residents and those with a right of entry into Canada will be tested on arrival, [and] they will quarantine until they get the result of a negative test,” according to Duclos.

The United Kingdom, Japan, Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, Tukey, Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan are also among those imposing restrictions on flights and travelers from southern African nations in light of the new variant.
The World Health Organization announced Friday it had designated the newly identified variant, B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern, named Omicron.

On Friday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned against travel bans, stressing such restrictions are “not a long-term solution” when it comes to managing coronavirus variants.

“Governments are responding to the risks of the new coronavirus variant in emergency mode causing fear among the traveling public. As quickly as possible we must use the experience of the last two years to move to a coordinated data-driven approach that finds safe alternatives to border closures and quarantine,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh in a statement.