Middle East countries ban travel from African nations over new Covid Omicron strain

Saudi Arabia and Egypt among nations introducing new measures after discovery of variant

A passenger pushes a baggage trolley in the arrivals hall at Tokyo's Haneda airport on December 27, 2020, after the government announced more restrictions on travel due to the rise of COVID-19 coronavirus infections across the country. / AFP / Philip FONG
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Several countries in the Middle East and North Africa on Friday announced bans on the entry of travellers from several African nations owing to fears over a new coronavirus variant Omicron.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior and authorities in the UAE said visitors from seven African countries were barred from entry.

South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini are the countries listed in the ban.

The Saudi ban includes flights to and from those countries, the official Saudi Press Agency reported, quoting a ministry official.

It said, however, that foreign nationals from the seven countries could enter the kingdom if they had spent the previous 14 days in another country and agree to comply with Saudi health protocols.

Meanwhile, all direct flights between Egypt and a number of countries in southern Africa have been halted until further notice due to fears over the new variant, said a Cabinet spokesman on Friday.

An unvaccinated Belgian tourist was confirmed as the country’s first case of the new variant on Friday, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said.

The tourist had returned from Egypt 11 days before his symptoms began to appear.

A statement from Egypt’s Health Ministry on Friday said that investigations into the matter were under way to determine whether the Belgian tourist was infected while in Egypt.

Bahrain announced similar measures against six African countries, including South Africa, the official BNA news agency said.

Jordan's Ministry of Interior, acting on recommendations from the Health Ministry, also announced a ban on non-Jordanian travellers coming from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.

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Morocco also barred travellers from those same countries owing to fears over the new variant.

Several other nations, including the US and some European countries, have announced similar bans, sparking criticism from South Africa.

“We believe that some of the reactions have been unjustified,” South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said.

The World Health Organisation on Friday declared the Omicron strain to be a variant of concern.

It was blamed for a surge in new cases in South Africa and has also been detected in Hong Kong, Belgium, Israel and Botswana.

However, in Iraq, which is seeing low daily infections, officials said it had not found any cases of the new Omicron variant. But, health officials have warned a fourth wave of the pandemic is imminent. No new measures have been taken announced yet.

In a televised speech on Thursday, the country's Health Minister Hani Al Okabi called on Iraqis to "act wisely through wearing masks, washing their hands, avoiding big gatherings and considering other protective measures."

Updated: November 28, 2021, 12:53 PM